What is a direct object, and how can you identify it in a sentence?

Here is a simplified overview of English sentence structure:

Subject + Verb + Object
Actor + Action + What is acted upon

Example: “The man bites the dog.”

This sentence is obviously quite different from “The dog bites the man.” How do we know that the man is the subject in one sentence and the object in the other—whether the man is doing the biting or being bitten? In English, we usually get this information from the word order: first comes subject, then comes verb, then comes object.

Here are three questions you can ask to identify the subject, verb, and direct object of a sentence:

  1. Who/what did the action? (= subject)
  2. What was the action? (= verb)
  3. What did the subject [verb]? (= direct object)

Learn more about direct objects in English and Spanish:

All the example sentences on this blog are real, recent sentences from the news selected from WordBrewery’s database. Click here to receive new WordBrewery posts by email or RSS.

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