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The direct object a study on traditional and modern approches
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Joi, 08 Februarie 2018 21:39


prof. Drăgian Ana-Elena

Colegiul Tehnic ,,Constantin Brâncuşi’’ Oradea

In pre-theoretical grammars the direct object was frequently labelled as accusative object, owing to the morphological bias, not so justified in the case of English (Serban, 1982: 269). Thus, the form markers are irrelevant for this function as in:

e.g. They made him (accusative) president.
They made him (dative) a great favour.

Word order particularities are taken into account, but things seem more clearly presented only in the case of monotransitive verbs (with one direct object). When it comes to two-object structure, the distinction can't be made at the simple surface structure. English speakers are familiar with "dative before accusative" as a very frequent word order.

From a semantic point of view, the direct object expresses the goal or the real object of an ctivity or the thing representing the goal. Therefore, the direct object falls into:

affected object, the object actually hit or affected by the activity

effected object, the real object of the activity, i.e. its result (Serban,
1982: 270)

Classical generative-transformational grammar defines the direct object by means of immediate dominance principle, as the noun phrase under the verbal phrase node. It is considered a part of the underlying structure of the sentence. Direct objects have a specific transformational behaviour, namely they passivize and reflexivize. Still, there are other types of objects which suffer the same transformations. So this criterion is not seen as a very exact one in
defining the direct object.

Semantic approaches describe the direct object in terms of cases orroles. This concepts belong to Ch. J. Filmore who elaborated an opposite theory as a response to Noam Chomsky's syntactic description of sentences. The
former based his ideas on two kinds of arguments:

different categories or syntactic functions have the same semantic

the same category or syntactic function can express different

semantic contents: the agent, the pacient, the causative, the

beneficiary, the instrumental, the target etc. (Pans Dindelegan, 1999: 20-21)

e.g. They sell a lot of books. = The books sell very well.

direct object subject

The pupil reads the novel. = The novel is read by the pupil.

agent patient patient agent

They bought the present for Mary.

agent patient beneficiary

In Ch. J. Filmore's theory the deep structure is organized in logical-
semantic categories, while the syntactic structure is exclusively owed to the transformational component, thus placing itself at the level of the surface structure.

In this conception the role of the transformations is to place the different semantic categories in the syntactic positions of subject, direct object, indirect object, prepositional object etc.

The case/role that seems to be the best candidate for object formation/assignment rules in such models is the patient. The role designates an inanimate entity, be it concrete or abstract, which is most closely associated with the action, process or state, i.e. most dependent upon it (Serban, 1982: 271).

The patient might be very broadly defined as designating any entity, other than an animate (usually human), one that is involved in an activity instigated (or performed) or a psychological experience lived by an animate. The patient is some part of the objective world or of the individual world of the respective animate role. It refers to whatever man comes into contact with (and affects or effects) in the outer world, or whatever he comes into inter-relation with in his inner world (of thoughts, feelings). (Serban, 1982: 272)

This relation is conceived by the human mind as active on the part of the animate role and passive on that of the inanimate role, the patient.
The direct object may assume one of the following semantic roles:


e.g. He flung the hat up in the air.


e.g. He was punching holes in a sheet of metal.


e.g. She used him to attain fame in her profession.

• phenomenon, a role associated with mental process verbs
e.g. Does he realize his predicament yet?


e.g. We had a long chat.

verbiage, a role associated as a rule with "saying" or
"communicating" verbs

e.g. They have reported the discovery of a new planet. (MAciuck 2000: 72)

The formal approaches set up a list of formal properties of the object function and it includes:

(direct) objects have no preposition

e.g. I took the train to London.

the neutral position of them is immediately to the right of the verb
e.g. We persuaded him.

the passive can be only applied to objects

e.g. She made herself a new habit from smoking cigars./ A new
habit was made from smoking cigars. but we can only say:
She went home. (adverbial modifier of place) not * She was
gone home.

the reflexive "self' plus possessive "my", "your" etc. can only
replace objects (Serban, 1982: 277-278)

e.g. Tom shaved himself.

Some of the major syntactic features associated with the direct object are as follows:

it is placed immediately after the predicative verb
e.g. Don't spend too much time on sleeping.

it assumes the function of the subject in the passive transformation
e.g. I broke the glass.

The glass was broken.

after the passivization, the meaning remains the same

e.g. The thief stole my purse. = My purse was stolen by the thief. (different grammatical means of conveying the same message)

it is placed after the indirect object in clauses with two non-
prepositional objects

it permits of no prepositional paraphrase (Maciuck 2000: 72)

e.g. The cat bit the dog. (since the direct object is a non-
prepositional object, it can't be paraphrased prepositionally)

The Direct Object in English deals with traditional and modem approaches. I tried to give an almost complete glimpse of the direct object relating it with the evolution of the concept in general. In order to have a better understanding of what this kind of object means in English, I linked it with the notions of case and voice. The accusative is a distinctive formal aspect of the direct object and I can't speak of it unless I consider the situation of the active and the passive.


Filmore Ch. J. Frame Semantics, 1982, Hanshin Publishing Co, p.115

Maciuck Gina, Glimpses of English Syntax, 2000 , Ed. Universitatii Suceava, p. 120

Newsweek, 1990 November 12


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