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I've posted a question in English Language Learners as to this sentence:

Mom made me a sandwich.

The intended meaning was "Mom made a sandwich, intending it for me."

There, I came to realize that the indirect object 'me' is not involved in the action of the verb 'made' at all.

Is my realization correct?

If so, how is it that 'me' can be an object when it has nothing to do with the verb's action at all?

Is it merely because 'me' is an indirect object as opposed to a direct object? Or is it also possible that a direct object is not involved in the verb's action at all?

  • There are several constructions in the English language which could mean something strange if understood literally. I had John and Mary for dinner means that I invited them to my house for a meal, not that I ate them. I feel like an apple (I would like to eat one) invites the humorous reply You don't look like one. So Mom made me a sandwich could mean that she made me into one, but doesn't unless someone chooses to understand it that way. – Kate Bunting Mar 31 at 7:51
  • How do you evaluate “involvedness?” It’s a very subjective term. You could say, for example, that “me” in your example is involved because they receive, benefit or profit from the sandwich. So if I give you an example of an unaffected direct object, you could simply say, “oh, but in my opinion the object is involved in the action.” The question is a bit vague. – Richard Z Mar 31 at 11:07
  • @RichardZ I think simply being involved shouldn't be confused with being "involved in the action of the verb". In my example, you can't say "me" is involved in the action of the verb 'make', because "me" doesn't even have to be present when or where "Mom" makes the sandwich. And it's not even clear that "me" can eventually benefit or profit from the sandwich, because that's entirely up to context. – listeneva Mar 31 at 15:47
  • Ok, two questions: 1) are you familiar with the concept of semantic roles / theta roles? 2) would it be fair to paraphrase your question as: Can a direct object be a recipient or benefactor? – Richard Z Mar 31 at 16:08
  • @RichardZ I think I know what a semantic role is, but not sure about "theta role". I'm afraid that's not my question. – listeneva Mar 31 at 16:13
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The indirect object is very much involved: if your mother doesn’t make a sandwich, you don’t get to eat one.

An indirect object is the receiver of the action: the noun/pronoun to or for whom/which the action is performed. Mom does the work; you enjoy the sandwich. Grammatically, of course, it doesn’t matter if the action is real, supposed, or negated.

The board gave your proposal a thorough review.
Will Richard and Monica buy their daughter a new car?
John never tells his wife the truth.

Your proposal gets a review, the daughter may get a car, and John’s wife never gets the truth.

  • Note that my example doesn't tell you anything about whether or not I have eaten or even received the sandwich. All it tells you is that Mom intended it for me, which may or may not lead to any event involving 'me'. – listeneva Mar 31 at 15:57
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    @listeneva: and how is that of any importance? "…it doesn’t matter if the action is real, supposed, or negated.” The ind. obj. is still the receiver of the action. Just because you could feed the sandwich to the dog doesn't matter to the declarative statement that your mother made the sandwich for you. – KarlG Mar 31 at 16:26
  • Exactly. Your last sentence proves my point: "Mom made me a sandwich" doesn't guarantee that I receive the sandwich from Mom. Then, how could you say that I'm the receiver of the action expressed by the verb 'make' when the dog ate the sandwich? What is it that I received? Nothing. Perhaps you've got a recipient mixed up with a revocable beneficiary. – listeneva Apr 1 at 2:00
  • @listeneva: So you are contending that Mom never makes me a sandwich and a potentially canine-devoured sandwich are completely different from Mom made me a sandwich?. Let me put it this way. The indirect object isn’t about you. It’s about the verb. Whether you actually get a sandwich is controlled by other sentence elements, not the relationship of the verb make to me. – KarlG Apr 1 at 9:15
  • I'm not here to argue with you, but let me just say this. Mom made me a sandwich doesn't entail me eating or even receiving the sandwich any more than Mom never makes me a sandwich. – listeneva Apr 1 at 10:09
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Verbs can refer to many different kinds of concepts. The object of a verb, direct or indirect, does not have to be involved with or affected by an action.

Here is an example: "I hate zucchini noodles". This sentence describes how I feel about zucchini noodles. It could be true even if I have never interacted with zucchini noodles since I started hating them.

Another simple example is the verb "want": "I want that sandwich" describes my desire for the sandwich, not some action involving the sandwich.

Another example that is similar to yours, but that clearly involves a direct object is "I helped my parents make dinner by chopping vegetables." Here, the physical action that I am describing is chopping vegetables; "my parents", as the direct object of the verb help, refers to the beneficiary of my action. I could help my parents in this way without them being involved at all in my vegetable-chopping (e.g. maybe I do it while they're busy doing something else).

Some verbs allow me to be used the way you used it in your question, but others don't. The exact meaning of me will depend on the specific verb. Other verbs with similar semantics (because they refer at least in part to an action that can be taken in advance of the "intended" recipient actually receiving something) are bake (as in "I baked him a cake; it's in my car now") or send (as in "I sent them some postcards that should arrive next week").

As a side point, it is debated whether "me" in sentences like the one you describe should be called an "indirect object". This is a traditional term, but in English, "indirect objects" like this are very similar in many ways to "direct objects".

  • Thanks. But I think 'hate' and 'want' are stative verbs in your examples, which means they don't mean an 'action' but only a 'state'. In your noodle example, I think 'zucchini noodles' is directly involved in the emotional state of 'hate'. Similarly, 'that sandwich' can be said to be directly involved in the emotional state of 'want'. Also, in your 'my parents' example, 'my parents' are the ones directly being helped. Thus, I would say these might be different from my 'make' example. – listeneva Mar 31 at 3:59
  • @listeneva: I can see how it's not quite the same. I think that verbs can sometimes refer to a combination of action and emotional state. – sumelic Mar 31 at 4:06

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