The Grammarphobia Blog

Object oriented

Q: I have a question about these sentences: 1) “I fed the dog.” 2) “I fed leftovers to the dog.” 3) “I fed the dog leftovers.” In the first, “dog” is a direct object. In the second, “leftovers” is the direct object. Which is the direct object in the third? The word “leftovers” seems left over. Is something wrong with the sentence?

A: All of your sentences are correct.

It’s not uncommon for a verb to have both a direct and an indirect object, which is what’s happening in the third example.

If a verb has only one object – that is, a noun or pronoun that’s acted on – then it’s a direct object.

If there are two objects, the indirect object is the person or thing on the receiving end and the direct object is who or what ends up there.

Now, let’s look at all three of your sentences.

In the first sentence, there is only one object: “I fed the dog [direct object].”

In the second, there’s a direct object as well as a prepositional phrase that stands in for an indirect object: “I fed leftovers [direct object] to the dog [prepositional phrase].”

In the third sentence, there are two objects: “I fed the dog [indirect object] leftovers [direct object].”

As you can see, a verb can have both direct and indirect objects, though it can’t have an indirect object unless there’s a direct object too.

Why isn’t “dog” part of a prepositional phrase in the third sentence?

Verbs like “feed” as well as “hand,” “pass,” “give, “offer,” “send,” “write,” “throw,” and many others are commonly used without prepositions when they’re immediately followed by an indirect object.

Here are a couple of other examples: “Smith threw Jones [indirect object] the ball [direct object]” and “I cooked my guests [indirect object] chicken Kiev [direct object].”  

Of course you could also use prepositional phrases: “Smith threw the ball [direct object] to Jones [prepositional phrase]” and “I cooked chicken Kiev [direct object] for my guests [prepositional phrase].”

We touched on this subject in a blog entry last year. You might find it interesting.

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