objects (clause elements)

Objects are one of the five types of clause element. The others are: subjects, verb phrases, complements and adverbials.

Like the other categories of clause element, the category of objects is functional as opposed to formal. In other words, to say that some phrase or clause is an “object” is to say something about the function that it performs (or the “job” that it does) in a clause.

• There are three types of object: direct objects, indirect objects and prepositional objects. Examples of each of these are given below:

1. direct object: Harry smokes cigars.
2. indirect object: Dick gave Harry some cigars.
3. prepositional object: Sarah doesn’t approve of cigars.

• semantic characterization of objects

- the most common semantic function of direct and prepositional objects is as “affected participant” (“cigars” in the sentences above.)

- the most common semantic function of an indirect object is to refer to an “animate being,” (i.e. a person or an animal) that is a “recipient participant, ” — in other words a participant that “receives” the thing referred to by the direct object.

• form and position of objects

- in their form, subjects, like objects, are normally either noun phrases or noun clauses. (And, generally, only one type of noun clause, the “nominal relative clause ,” can be an indirect object, for example, “Harry and Sarah gave whoever came to their door a bag of candy.)

- the position of a direct object is normally after the verb phrase. In a clause which has both a direct and an indirect object, the indirect object comes before the direct object.

• the syntactic characteristics of objects

1. if the object of a clause is a pronoun, it must be an object pronoun. E.g. “Harry gave me a cigar

2. if the subject and the object refer to the same thing, then a reflexive pronoun is usually required. E.g. “Harry treats himself very well.”

3. The direct object of an active clause can usually become the subject of a passive clause.

E.g. “Dick congratulated Harry.”“Harry was congratulated by Dick. ”

4. Indirect objects can usually be replaced by prepositional phrases. (E.g. “Harry offered Dick a cigar.” = “Harry offered a cigar to Dick.”)

N.B. When a clause containing both a direct and an indirect object is passivized with the direct object becoming the subject, it is normal to use this type of prepositional phrase rather than an indirect object. (In other words, the passivization, “A cigar was offered to Dick,” is normal. The alternative, “A cigar was offered Dick,” is much less common although not incorrect.)