An object in grammar is part of a sentence, and often part of the predicate. It denotes somebody or something involved in the subject's "performance" of the verb. Basically, it is what or whom the verb is acting upon. As an example, the following sentence is given:
In the sentence "Bobby kicked the ball", "ball" is the object.
"Bobby" is the subject (the agent, doer, or performer of the action), "kick" is the action, and "ball" is the object (what or whom the action of the verb is acting upon).
The main verb in the sentence determines whether there can or must be objects in the sentence, and if so how many and of what type. (See also Valency (linguistics).) In many languages, however, including English, the same verb can allow multiple different structures; for example, "Bobby kicked" and "Bobby kicked the ball" are both valid English sentences.
Types of object
Objects fall into classes: direct objects, adpositional objects, and non-prepositional indirect objects. A direct object answers the question "What?", while an indirect object answers the question "To whom?" or "For whom?". An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object, or an otherwise affected participant in the event. There must be a direct object for an indirect object to be placed in a sentence. Some examples:
- In "Danielle ate fruit", fruit is the direct object of the verb ate. It corresponds to the accusative of languages with grammatical cases.
- In "They sent him a postcard", him is the (non-prepositional) indirect object of the verb sent (which uses a double-object construction). It typically corresponds to the dative case.
- In "We listened to the radio", radio is the object of the preposition to, and the prepositional object of the simple past of the phrasal verb to listen to. It can correspond to a variety of cases and complements.
In many languages, including German, Latin, and Classical Arabic, objects can change form slightly (decline) to indicate what kind of object they are (their case). This does not happen in English (except for a few pronouns that do have separate subject and object forms, such as he versus him); rather, the type of object is indicated strictly by word order. Also, some objects are treated differently from others in particular languages. In Spanish, for example, human objects have to get a preposition 'a'. This is called differential object marking.
Forms of object
An object may take any of a number of forms, all of them nominal in some sense. Common forms include:
- A noun or noun phrase, as in "I remembered her advice."
- An infinitive or infinitival clause, as in "I remembered to eat."
- A gerund or gerund phrase, as in "I remembered being there."
- A declarative content clause, as in "I remembered that he was blond."
- An interrogative content clause, as in "I remembered why she had left."
- A fused relative clause, as in "I remembered what she wanted me to do."
The object in linguistics
In inflected languages, objects may be marked using morphological case. In many languages, the patient of a ditransitive verb is marked in the same way as the single object of a monotransitive verb, and is called the direct object. The recipient has its own marking, and is called the indirect object. In Latin and many other languages, the direct object is marked by the accusative case, while the indirect object is typically marked by the dative case.
In more isolating languages such as English, objects are marked by their position in the sentence or using adpositions (like to in I gave a book to him). Modern English preserves a case distinction for pronouns, but it has conflated the accusative and the dative into a single objective form (him, her, me, etc., which may function either as direct or indirect objects).
In some languages, the recipient of a ditransitive verb is marked in the same way as the single object of a monotransitive verb, and is called the primary object. The patient of ditransitive verbs has its own marking, and is called the secondary object. Such languages are called dechticaetiative languages, and are mostly found among African languages.
An object can be turned into a syntactic subject using passive voice, if the language in question has such a construction. In dative languages, the direct object is promoted, while in dechticaetiative languages the primary object is promoted. English shares this property with dechticaetiative languages, since non-prepositional indirect objects can be promoted:
- Direct object: His colleagues sent him a postcard.
- A postcard was sent to him (by his colleagues).
- Indirect object: His colleagues sent him a postcard.
- He was sent a postcard (by his colleagues).
In the immense majority of languages, where there is a preferred word order in the sentence, the object is placed somewhere after the subject. Analytic languages additionally tend to place the object after the verb, so that it remains separate from the subject.
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