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What Is a Direct Object Pronoun?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A direct object pronoun takes the place of a noun in a sentence as a phrase in the form of an object, rather than as a subject. This distinction is important as it ensures proper understanding of meaning in a sentence, as well as proper grammar in written and spoken language. In English, a direct object pronoun typically follows the predicate in a sentence and refers to an object that an action is taken upon. Rather than explicitly stating the identity of the direct object through the use of a noun, however, a pronoun can be used instead.

In order for someone to properly recognize and understand the purpose of a direct object pronoun, he or she should first understand the role of a direct object in a sentence. Not all sentences require a direct object, and this is determined by the type of verb used as the predicate of a sentence; transitive verbs require a direct object, while intransitive verbs do not. A verb like “smiles” in a sentence such as “He smiles,” does not require an object and so is intransitive; while a transitive verb like “throws” requires an object for that action.

In the sentence, “The boy throws the ball,” the object is “the ball,” which the subject, “The boy,” is acting upon through the predicate, “throws.” In this example, the subject was a noun, “ball,” but it is just as easy for someone to use a direct object pronoun instead of a noun. This is often done in a sentence that follows a previous statement in which the identity of the direct object was established. In two sentences such as, “The boy picked up a ball. He threw it,” the second sentence uses pronouns to avoid unnecessary repetition.

English includes both subject and object pronouns, which may be the same but they can be quite different. “He,” for example, is only used as a subject pronoun within a sentence; a statement like “The woman kissed he,” is grammatically incorrect since “he” is used as a direct object pronoun. While “he” and “she” are subject pronouns, “him” and “her” are object pronouns, so the sentence should be “The woman kissed him.”

“It” can be used as either a subject or object pronoun, as can “you,” but otherwise most pronouns can only be used as a subject or an object. Confusion for many arises over proper usage of the words “who” and “whom” due to the fact that “whom” is an object pronoun. It would be grammatically accurate for someone to use a direct object pronoun to say “He wrote the letter to whom?” while “Whom wrote the letter?” is incorrect since “who” is the proper subject pronoun.

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