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Update

Oddly, the question was closed for "being unclear what you're asking" -- even though it is quite clear what I was asking since (1) I asked a direct question and (2) people gave very specific and directed responses that answered the question.


I'm finding myself confused over what is a direct object and what is a prepositional phrase, when you consider an imperative command. For example:

dig hole with shovel

"Dig" is the verb. Dig what? The hole. So the hole is the direct object. That would mean the shovel is the indirect object (i.e., the hole is being dug by what?)

However, going by strict grammar, my understanding is that if a sentence has an indirect object, it will always come between the verb and the direct object. Further, if there is information after the direct object about who or what received the action, that is most likely a prepositional phrase.

But my example sentence above is different than this:

The cupcake with sprinkles is his.

Here the "with" is introducing a prepositional phrase ("with sprinkles"). But in my original sentence, I cannot say "with shovel" is just a prepositional phrase. Or can I?

Another example, in line with my first sentence, would be this:

pick up the hot plate with the gloves

Here the gloves would seem to be the indirect object and the hot plate the direct object. So is it the case that when you use "with" in such sentences, the rule of "indirect objects comes between verb and direct object" is inverted?

Added Note:

I realize the sentences above (save one) are ungrammatical. The context I didn't supply was that I was looking at interactive fiction systems, taught in classes, that parse commands and, by proxy, provide insight into grammar. (Or do they?)

The command "dig hole with shovel" can be reframed as: "John, dig a hole with the shovel."

Those systems always parse the above with "hole" as the direct object and "shovel" as the indirect object.

It's the "with" that's throwing me off. Clearly "John, dig a hole with the shovel" is treating the bit after the "with" as an object: shovel with which to do the digging. Equally clearly "The cupcake with sprinkles is his" is not treating "sprinkles" in the same way.

closed as unclear what you're asking by oerkelens, Glorfindel, choster, curiousdannii, tchrist Apr 15 '17 at 13:58

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  • What makes you think there is an indirect object in any of your three example sentences (only one of which is grammatical, by the way)? – oerkelens Apr 5 '17 at 14:19
  • Well, that's the interesting bit and I probably should have included that. In classes that teach interactive fiction, sentences without a subject are presumed to be directed to the protagonist. It doesn't matter who that is. So it could be "John, dig a hole with the shovel." In that case, all such systems parse the sentence as "hole" is the direct object and "shovel" is the indirect object. (Updated original with an added note.) – Jeff Nyman Apr 5 '17 at 14:23
  • In "Dig hole with shovel", there is no indirect object. "Hole" is direct object, and the preposition phrase "with a shovel" is an instrument adjunct'; it explains what the hole should be dug with. Note that PPs do not function as indirect objects. – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 15:20
  • Ah! "Instrument adjunct" was a term I was not aware of, hence my searching was leading me astray. – Jeff Nyman Apr 5 '17 at 16:28
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    So basically, you got confused because someone told you an instrument adjunct was an indirect object and you started this question because you noticed a rule for the indirect object did not apply to the instrument adjunct? Cry me a river (there's an indirect object) but I really don't know what you're actually asking... – oerkelens Apr 5 '17 at 18:26
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The shovel and the gloves in your example sentences are not indirect objects of the verbs.

Indirect objects receive the action of the verb, but in a secondary way to the direct object. The classic examples in English use the prepositions to and for. Your example sentences, with indirect objects, would be:

Dig hole with shovel for him.

Pick up the hot plate for her with the gloves.

And indeed, you can shift the indirect object to between the verb and the direct object as well:

Dig him (a) hole with (the) shovel.

Pick her up the hot plate with the gloves.

(The meaning of the second sentence has shifted from what you intended; to pick someone up (something) means something along the lines of, "obtain (something) for the purpose of giving to someone" (e.g., getting a specific item for lunch in a shared lunch order, etc.), but grammatically, the point stands.)

Your with the shovel is actually in the "instrumental" case, but as far as I know, English doesn't specially mark this case besides using a preposition like "with" or "by" (e.g., Dig hole by using the shovel, etc.).

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    PPs cannot function as indirect object. In "Dig hole with shovel for him", the PP "for him" is complement of "dig" but it is not an indirect object. In the OP's example, the preposition phrase "with a subject" is an adjunct of instrument. – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 15:38
  • How does the sentence "Dig him a hole with a shovel" parse in that case? Is "him" not the indirect object in that case? – Roni Choudhury Apr 5 '17 at 15:39
  • Interesting! That instrumental case was a term I was not aware of. So in the interactive fiction contexts I'm working with, I guess the phrase "dig hole with shovel" (when applied by default to the player-character) is "dig hole with shovel for me." (Here "me" being the implied character.) Likewise, "John, dig a hole with the shovel" is likewise saying "John, dig a hole with the shovel for me." – Jeff Nyman Apr 5 '17 at 16:31
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    "Dig him a hole with a shovel" is: 'verb - Ind object - dir object - adjunct'. The adjunct (the PP "with a shovel") is an adjunct of instrument. – BillJ Apr 5 '17 at 18:42
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    The implied indirect object is not necessarily "for me". For instance, if you "dig a grave", it's probably for the deceased person, not for the person giving the command. – Barmar Apr 5 '17 at 19:00

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