For example, in the sentence: I baked a cake for my mom.

Direct object (DO): cake Indirect object (IO): for my mom

Some webpages say IO can only come before DO

While others explain that a prepositional phrase can also act as IO

Can a prepositional phrase act as an indirect object?

  • "For my mom" is a prepositional phrase. "My mom" is the object of the preposition "for". But the second website is correct in that a prepositional phrase such as the one in the example serves the same function as an indirect object; "I baked my mom a cake" is the same semantically as "I baked a cake for my mom." May 30, 2016 at 15:10
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    @Steven Littman, Alejandra A simple golden rule: If the phrase has a preposition it, it cannot be an indirect object. Although I baked a cake for my mom has the same meaning as I baked my mom a cake, the syntactic structure is different and the PP for my mom is not an indirect object. Thus the complement of the prep "for" (i.e. "my mom") is an 'oblique', an object of the preposition rather than of the verb "baked".
    – BillJ
    May 30, 2016 at 15:33
  • I didn't say a prepositional phrase can be an indirect object. But if my guess is correct and Alejandra's native language is Spanish, it can cause some confusion because Spanish grammar considers such an object an indirect object; in the sentence “Le cociné un bizcocho para mi mamá”, "le" is the enclitic (redundant) indirect object referring to the object "mi mamá”. May 30, 2016 at 15:49
  • I've no closevotes left today, but this looks to me like a duplicate of What's wrong with “I'll open you the door”? May 30, 2016 at 15:56
  • @BillJ So, what is the prepositional phrase "for my mom" in part of sentence? Adverbial ?
    – towry
    Aug 9, 2017 at 5:49

2 Answers 2


Yes, a benefactive such as "for my mum" behaves like an indirect object, in that it can often appear before the direct object without the preposition:

I baked my mum a cake.

She sewed me a shirt.

But this is not natural for all verbs, and I'm not sure what rule will predict it. So

? He dug me the garden.

does not sound right to me whereas "He dug the garden for me" is fine.

I think the availability of this construction depends on whether the actor ends up providing an object rather than just a service to the beneficient, but I'm not sure. Consider

She painted me a picture.

which is fine, but

? She painted me the house.

which sounds odd to my ear.

  • 1
    Interesting point, Colin, but I must say to my US ears, "to dig the garden" sounds strange to me in general. What does that mean to you? Plant seeds? Turn the soil in preparation for planting? I garden a lot, and I never have heard that phrase on the western shores of the Pond. May 30, 2016 at 15:21
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    Hm. It's normal for me, and it refers to preparing the soil. But GloWbE has only 12 instances of it - 5 from GB, 2 from US; so it hasn't been used much on the web. BNC (the British National Corpus) has 5, and COCA (Contemporary American English) only 1.
    – Colin Fine
    May 30, 2016 at 15:27
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    We might say "till the soil" for that in the US. In fact, we'd rent a machine called a rototiller that would be available at a reasonable rate for four hours' rental, and it would be more than enough time! May 30, 2016 at 15:41
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    "Till the soil" sounds like something out of the bible to me! I know that machine as a "rotovator" (which I think is actually a tradename).. I've never heard "rototiller".
    – Colin Fine
    May 30, 2016 at 16:09
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    Indeed. Pay is already ditransitive, so will not accept a benefactive without explicit marking.
    – Colin Fine
    May 10, 2022 at 11:53

This issue has been bothering me lately... sometimes teaching ESL really sucks... She gave the chemicals to the lab. She submitted the chemicals to the lab. She gave the lab the chemicals. She submitted the lab the chemicals... all seem to mean the same thing and to have the same functions for their parts... but the last one is the odd man out... also in the above example someone gave about painting... as in She painted me the house... which I would say is NOT the same thing as She painted the house for me... unless you mean she painted a picture of the house for you.. and did not paint an actual house... grrrr... trying to get this across to low-level speakers is interesting at best...

  • 1
    As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    May 10, 2022 at 6:03
  • 1
    This (excluding the complaint) has already been said at 'Fix me that account' or 'fix that account for me (though some distinguish ditransitive and benefactive constructions, rather than seeing the latter as a subclass). 'Ditransitive constructions in English ... occur idiosyncratically ... rather than predictably.... Mukherjee gives a good analytical overview of prototypical to peripheral examples....' May 10, 2022 at 10:57

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