Common English mistakes with direct and indirect objects


Advanced English Grammar Course

Direct objects

Can you find the mistakes in these sentences? They are all incorrect. They don’t sound natural.

  • “I bought yesterday a new t-shirt.”
  • “Please finish quickly the report.”
  • “I’ll put on the table the dishes.”

What’s wrong with these sentences?

Well, each sentence has a verb – bought, finish, and put – and each sentence also has a direct object. A direct object is the object that is acted upon by the verb.

So, the direct object in the first sentence is, “a new t-shirt.” In the second sentence, the direct object is, “the report.” And in the third sentence, the direct object is, “the dishes.”

It doesn’t sound natural when we have a word in the middle between the verb and its direct object. That’s why these sentences sound strange.

Here’s the correct way to say them:

  • “I bought a new t-shirt yesterday.”
  • “Please finish the report quickly.”
  • “I’ll put the dishes on the table.”

So, whenever we have a verb with a direct object, keep the verb and direct object together, and don’t put any words in the middle.

Indirect Objects

Now, there’s one exception and that is indirect objects. An indirect object is the person who receives the action, or receives the direct object. In these sentences the indirect objects are in green:

  • “I gave John the books.”
    gave = verb; John = indirect object; the books = direct object
  • “Please send me the report.”
    send = verb; me = indirect object; the report = direct object
  • “I’ll lend you my car.”
    lend = verb; you = indirect object; my car = direct object

It’s okay to have an indirect object in the middle between the verb and the direct object.

Here’s one more mistake. Sometimes students say,

  • “I gave to John the books.”
  • “Please send to me the report.”
  • “I’ll lend to you my car.”

These sentences are also incorrect. If you want to use the word “to,” then you should put the indirect object at the end of the sentence:

  • “I gave the books to John.
  • “Please send the report to me.
  • “I’ll lend my car to you.

These sentences are the same as when we have the indirect object in the middle:

  • “I gave the books to John
  • = “I gave John the books.”

Both versions are correct.

Review

When a verb has a direct object, keep the direct object immediately after the verb:

  • “Please finish the report quickly.”

It is possible for an indirect object to come in the middle:

  • “Please send me the report.”

The indirect object can also be at the end with “to.”

  • “Please send the report to me.”

But you can’t put it in the middle with “to.” Don’t say, “Please send to me the report.” That’s not correct.

We often put the indirect object at the end of the sentence with “to” if the indirect object is a long phrase.

  • “Please send the report to the managing editor of the newspaper.

“The managing editor of the newspaper,” is quite a long phrase, so it’s best to put it at the end of the sentence after “to,” and not in the middle between the verb and the direct object.

If you’d like to correct your mistakes and learn to use English more confidently, check out my Advanced English Grammar Course, which will take your English from good to great. It includes feedback on writing tasks, which are included with every lesson.

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