I’m try­ing to sort out verb com­ple­ments (broadly de­fined here as any phrase that de­ter­mines, com­pletes, or re­fines the mean­ing of a verb) and the re­la­tions they form with verbs: ob­ject re­la­tion, ad­ver­bial re­la­tion, or sub­ject re­la­tion.

I’ve al­ways un­der­stood di­rect ob­jects as phrases that iden­tify the thing that re­ceives or is af­fected by the ac­tion of the verb. (I’m not sure if this is a good def­i­ni­tion or not.) The fol­low­ing are verb com­ple­ments with a di­rect-ob­ject re­la­tion to their verb:

  1. My mother baked a cake.
    [What is baked? = a cake.]

  2. I need food.
    [What is needed? = food.]

  3. She said that the meet­ing was can­celled.
    [What is said? = that clause.]

  4. I bought flow­ers.
    What is bought? = flow­ers.]

The term in­di­rect ob­ject con­fuses me be­cause I don’t see these as form­ing an ob­ject re­la­tion with the verb at all. They have an ad­ver­bial re­la­tion to the verb, in­di­cat­ing the rea­son or pur­pose of the ac­tion (why) or the di­rec­tion of the ac­tion. Th­ese are ad­ver­bial re­la­tions, not ob­ject re­la­tions. The so-called IO is not re­ceiv­ing the ac­tion of the verb; it is re­ceiv­ing the verb’s ob­ject. Even when the or­der of the word phases is in­verted, the re­la­tion is the same.

  1. My mother baked a cake for me.
    [For me is ad­ver­bial.]

  2. My mother baked me a cake.
    [Me is still ad­ver­bial.]

  3. Jim bought flow­ers for his wife.
    [For my wife is ad­ver­bial.]

  4. Jim bought his wife flow­ers.
    [My wife is still ad­ver­bial.]

  5. The com­pany gave a bonus to the team.
    [To the team is ad­ver­bial.]

  6. The com­pany gave the team a bonus.
    [The team is still ad­ver­bial.]

My mother didn’t bake me, Jim didn’t buy his wife (hope­fully), and the com­pany didn’t give the team. None of these is an ob­ject of the verb, so why call them ob­jects at all?

But what about sen­tences like these where the ob­ject of the prepo­si­tion iden­ti­fies the re­cip­i­ent of the ac­tion? Are these in­di­rect-ob­ject re­la­tions or ad­ver­bial re­la­tions?

  1. She cares for her chil­dren.
  2. Joe apol­o­gized to Jim.
  • 5
    It's neither. In "I care for them", "them" is object of the prep "for" not of the verb "care". In "My mother baked a cake for me" "for me" is not an adjunct (your adverbial) but complement of "baked".
    – BillJ
    Aug 27, 2020 at 9:46
  • 4
    @Ubu English You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding about direct and indirect objects, and their functions. Adjuncts (adverbials) are semantically concerned with the circumstances of the situation -- they express such meanings as manner, spatial or temporal location, duration, condition, and so on. By contrast, the entities involved typically equate to the syntactic complements. There's a huge amount of info on the 'Net about this topic. Have you done any research?
    – BillJ
    Aug 27, 2020 at 10:36
  • 4
    @UbuEnglish There is no grammar I'm aware of that says such items are adverbials so why would you want to assert that they are? If you are confused about such elementary things as objects, you might consider asking your question on ELL, our learner's site which deals with such basics.
    – BillJ
    Aug 29, 2020 at 5:58
  • 4
    You’re freely intermixing terms from distinct models of analysis in oddly incompatible fashions. You’re using the syntactic term indirect object from traditional grammar as though it were a semantic term akin to agent, patient, recipient, or beneficiary from thematic analysis. I know of no model in which “indirect objects” are ever classified as “adverbials”, and while not all clausal arguments need be NPs, both subject and object complements must; NB: NP ≠ PP. This question fits better on Linguistics which covers the scientific study of all languages, not just English.
    – tchrist
    Aug 29, 2020 at 18:05
  • 3
    And one of the arguments against the adverbial status of these constituents would be passivization in (3) below: 1. The com­pany gave a bonus to the team. 2. A bonus was given to the team. 3. The team was given a bonus.
    – Alex B.
    Aug 29, 2020 at 20:23


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