indirect objects without direct ones

mellow-yellow

Senior Member
English - USA
According to Wikipedia's Grammatical Object page,

There must be a direct object for an indirect object to be placed in a sentence." In "They sent him a postcard", him is a (non-prepositional) indirect object of the verb sent (which uses a double-object construction). It typically corresponds to the dative case.
However, Wikipedia's transitivity page contradicts this with

Even though an intransitive verb may not take a direct object, it often may take an appropriate indirect object: I laughed at him.
Which is accurate?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think that you pays your money and you takes your choice:).

    Reacting on a personal level to your quotes...
    I don't think "him" in "I laughed at him" is an indirect object.
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    The first quote looks like it pertains to transitive verbs, and the second to intransitive ones. It's conceivable (to me at least) that different rules might apply in either case - so maybe it's not as inconsistent as it seems.

    For my money, I do think "him" in "I laughed at him" is an indirect object. (oh well...)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In other words, one might hold that when an indirect object appears without a direct object in a sentence, one is dealing with a phrasal verb?

    I a bit dubious about that. What about I walked to London?

    I can't agree with Wiki's grammatical object page, yet.
     

    mellow-yellow

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    In other words, one might hold that when an indirect object appears without a direct object in a sentence, one is dealing with a phrasal verb?
    Good question. See below.

    What about I walked to London?
    Subject + verb + adverbial prepositional phrase (reference)

    The first quote looks like it pertains to transitive verbs, and the second to intransitive ones.
    Yes, I agree, and because the Wikipedia Grammatical Object page continues

    An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object
    perhaps "I laughed at him" is a phrasal verb as suggested here

    Phrasal Verbs: laugh at To treat lightly; scoff at: a daredevil who laughed at danger.
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/laugh+at
    thus making "at him" a prepositional phrase acting as a direct object, because you could rewrite the sentence as

    I deride/ridicule/mock him.



    Thoughts?
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I would say him is an indirect object in all three of the following sentences:

    I told him he'd best not say that.
    I told him so.
    Yes, I told him.

    In the third, there is no direct object. Are we saying the indirect object has to have been placed in the sentence before the direct object was omitted?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    This sentence is colloquial and, grammatically speaking, probably incorrect.
    Ellipsis explains a lot of things, Mellow-Yellow. I wouldn't trust anybody who told me that "I told him" was incorrect. Speech would be awfully tedious if we always had to mention or repeat things that our listeners already understood.
     

    mellow-yellow

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I wouldn't trust anybody who told me that "I told him" was incorrect.
    This is not a value judgment. Your sentence is fine, and is, in fact, a very common grammatically nonstandard (tell is transitive verb; see also generative grammar) colloquialism. Let's continue this in another thread, if you like, because it's a fascinating topic (e.g. Nonseparable phrasal verbs used as separable: He ran a tree into instead of He ran into a tree or language spelled langauge).

    But, back to my question, is at him an indirect object?
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    This is not a value judgment. Your sentence is fine, and is, in fact, a very common grammatically nonstandard (tell is transitive verb; see also generative grammar) colloquialism. Let's continue this in another thread, if you like, because it's a fascinating topic (e.g. Nonseparable phrasal verbs used as separable: He ran a tree into instead of He ran into a tree or language spelled langauge).

    But, back to my question, is at him an indirect object?
    I seriously doubt Chomsky would have called this usage nonstandard.

    At him is a prepositional phrase. In contains an object, but that is the object of the preposition itself, not a direct or indirect object of a verb.

    The question, I think, is what exactly constitutes an indirect object, as opposed to a direct object.
     

    mellow-yellow

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Again,

    An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object.
    If that is true, where is the direct object in "I laughed at him?" Put another way, is at him really a prepositional phrase? Or is it a particle + direct object?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Again,



    If that is true, where is the direct object in "I laughed at him?" Put another way, is at him really a prepositional phrase? Or is it a particle + direct object?
    From the online Merriam Webster's definition of the preposition at:

    ...
    2—used as a function word to indicate the goal of an indicated or implied action or motion <aim at the target> <creditors are at him again>
    [...]
    5—used as a function word to indicate the means, cause, or manner <sold at auction> <laughed at my joke> <act at your own discretion>
    [...]


    I can see both of these meanings in "I laughed at him." The same source gives the following for intransitive laugh:

    1a : to show emotion (as mirth, joy, or scorn) with a chuckle or explosive vocal sound b : to find amusement or pleasure in something <laughed at his own clumsiness> c : to become amused or derisive <a very skeptical public laughed at our early efforts — Graenum Berger>
    [...]


    I think this describes the possible meanings of the sentence in question perfectly.
     
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    mellow-yellow

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I can see both of these meanings in "I laughed at him."
    Agreed, but "laugh at" may be, as the Cambridge dictionary claims, a phrasal verb:

    laugh at sb/sth phrasal verb
    to show that you think someone or something is stupid. I can't go into work looking like this - everyone will laugh at me.
    In that case, we're back to verb + particle + direct object(?) , suggesting that the Wikipedia's Grammatical Object page is correct after all.

    Another possibility is that at him is a (prepositional) adverb, similar to "I laughed heartily," but that's a different meaning of laugh.

    Ultimate Phrasal Verbs mentions transitive phrasal verbs:

    Transitive nonseparable phrasal verbs (verbs that require an object)... Hank's been CHEATING on his wife for years.
    so maybe laugh is intransitive but laugh at is transitive.
     
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