We've seen that the predicate contains a verb, as well as any other words which tell us about what the subject is doing. One of these "other words" can be a direct object . We came across direct objects several times in module 2 when we talked about pronouns and verbs. Let's recap what we said back then with the original example we used at the time:
John ate the apple.
Here we have a clause consisting of a subject (John) and a predicate (ate the apple). The predicate in this case consists of a verb (ate) and a noun phrase (the apple).
Now, both John and the apple are related somehow to the verb in the sense that one of them is "doing" the action and the other is having the action done to it. We know that the subject (John) is the person "doing" the action, and we can see that the apple is having the action done to it - it is being eaten! The person or thing having the action done to it is called the direct object, and so "the apple" is the direct object.
So in this clause we have a subject (John) and a predicate consisting of a verb (ate) and a direct object (the apple).
But again, it might not always be so easy. We might have more words to choose from to find our direct object. So is there a way to be sure how to recognise a direct object? Remember when we wanted to find the subject we first found the verb (ate) and then asked "Who or what ate?" The answer (John) gave us our subject. Well, now that we have the subject and the verb, we can ask another question with who and what to find the direct object. This question is "John ate what (or whom)?"
The answer we get is the direct object. Here's how we make that question again:
Subject - verb - whom or what?
Let's try asking the question with some more examples of clauses:
They smashed all the plates in the restaurant.
Her daughter gave her the keys.
In the first example we can ask "They smashed what?" The answer is "all the plates" and so "all the plates" is the direct object. In the second example the question "Her daughter gave what?" gives us the answer "the keys". So "the keys" is the direct object.
Transitive and intransitive verbs
Not all clauses have a direct object. Remember when we looked at verbs we saw that some verbs need a direct object and others don't? We called verbs that need a direct object transitive verbs, and those that don't intransitive verbs. In fact the first clause we made on the last page had an intransitive verb:
With this clause it doesn't make any sense to ask the question "John walks what?" in order to find a direct object, because "walk" cannot take a direct object. Remember also that some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. Our example on this page has a verb (ate) that can be both. Both of these clauses make sense, one with a direct object and one without:
John ate the apple. (transitive)
John ate. (intransitive)
Who and whom
You may have noticed that we've used the word "whom" quite a lot on this page instead of "who". You may remember that we did the same thing when we looked at interrogative pronouns back in module 2. So what exactly is the difference? Well, we use "who" when we are referring to the subject, and "whom" when we are referring to the object. And that'sit! That's why in our questions to find the direct object we asked "John ate what/ whom?" and not "John ate what/who?" In informal spoken and even written English, however, it isn't very common to hear "whom" nowadays - it is usually replaced by "who".