The Grammatical Object - Part 3: Pronouns and named objects

We have seen that some parts of English sentences are completely necessary. You can't have a sentence without a subject and a verb. On the other hand, grammatical objects may be necessary or not, depending on the verb. A sentence might have one object, several objects, or none at all. The object can be made up of a single word or a phrase.

When do you need to use an object?

It can be difficult to understand when an object is needed in English. Some verbs require object to complete them, others are never used with objects, and some are flexible. Native English speakers develop this understanding from a young age as they learn the language. It is not as simple for second-language speakers of English, since the rules can be difficult to guess.

The verb eat is flexible. It can be used with an object.

  • Babies eat mashed banana.

Eat can also be used with no object.

  • The baby is eating.

Meanwhile, the verb put requires an object.

  • Put your phone in your bag.

  • Did you put everything away?

It is not grammatically possible to use the verb put with no object.

  • Put in your bag.

  • Did you put away?

Another challenge for non-native speakers is that objects can be difficult to identify from listening. Objects may be spoken with or without stress depending on the importance of that word within the sentence. When objects are given as pronouns, they are usually not stressed. This makes them difficult to distinguish by hearing.

  • You should tell him the truth.

  • Put it in the cupboard.

In these sentences, the words him and it would often be pronounced as a very quick sound by native speakers. As a result, non-native students of English may learn an incorrect pattern of leaving out the object with these verbs.

When there is an object, it generally appears after the verb.

  • I visited a small beach.

  • Do you like my new boyfriend?

In future articles, I will show two situations where this is not true because the object appears in different positions. This happens when using phrasal verbs and passive structures.

Same place, not always an object

So, when identifying the object, we generally look after the verb to see what has been changed, created or affected by it.

However, when identifying the object, we have to be careful and make sure we understand the meaning of the sentence. Sometimes the words following a verb may not be related to an object at all.

  • Jim cooks pot roast. (object)

  • Jim cooks every Sunday. (no object)

In the sentences above, pot roast is the object, because it is the thing that Jim cooks. However, every Sunday is not an object. It is a time marker, telling when or how frequently the verb occurs.

  • I listened to his story. (object)

  • I listened intently. (no object)

Likewise, his story is an object, the thing that he took in by listening. However, intently gives information about how he listened. We might also notice that listen always connects to its object with to. This is a unique feature of the verb listen that is not true for other verbs.

  • That cat is fighting another cat. (object)

  • That cat is fighting again. (not an object)

Once more, we can see that another cat is the object while again indicates repetition.

The phrases every Sunday, intently and again are not objects because they are not about people, places, things or ideas that interact with the verb. Instead, phrases like these give meaning about when, how, how often and where the verb takes place, among other information.

To and for

We have seen that objects can be identified by their position in the structure. They usually follow the verb.

  • They bought a gift.

  • They bought it for you.

Remembering that there are different types of objects, we recall that indirect objects may be connected with particles like to and for.

These particles to and for are not only used to connect indirect objects. Sometimes, they are linked with very different information.

  • I rode my bike for an hour.

  • We have to think.

  • He uses this notebook for solving everyday problems.

These sentences are more complex. Objects may be used in other places in the sentence but not necessary after to or for. It is important to know that to and for are very flexible particles with many different uses.

Grammatical objects are an important part of English constructions, but are used or not used according to set rules. Like all complex rules in language, memorising correct structures is about seeing or hearing correct examples and practicing regularly.

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