I am trying to find the indirect object in this sentence:

"Se tiver alguma dúvida, pergunte a um funcionário."
If you have any queries, ask a member of staff.

My textbook says that the preposition "a" is used before indirect objects but I just don't see how "funcionário" is an indirect object in this case.

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    Vlad, if you explain why it doesn't look like an indirect object to you, we'll be able to give you better answers. Perhaps, in your native language it wouldn't be a indirect objetc...
    – Jacinto
    Oct 21, 2021 at 10:01
  • @Jacinto Good point. So in English the phrase is "If you have any queries, ask a member of staff" And here "you" is the subject of "have any queries", and the understood subject of the imperative clause "ask a member of staff" where "a member of staff" is the direct object because If there is only one object in a clause, it is always a direct one. Oct 21, 2021 at 10:11
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    That's definitely not the case in Portuguese: the person you address the question to is always the indirect objet whether an explicit direct object is there or not. I would have thought that's the case in English as well. Say, "She doesn't know Bob is dead? You must tell her" / "you must tell her the news." If you're right, her is direct object in the first sentence and indirect object in the second. I find that strange. Well, in Portuguese it would be indirect in both cases.
    – Jacinto
    Oct 21, 2021 at 11:14
  • There is no indirect object in the question posted in the title. um funcionário (here, an employee) is a direct object. Ask the employee a question =here the employee is an indirect object and a question is direct. So, I wonder about your book. These verbs are called ditransitive in English. V+IO+DO versus
    – Lambie
    Oct 21, 2021 at 21:23
  • @Lambie, I didn't know English gramar works like that. Always learning! But Portuguese grammar is different, and ao funcionário is um objeto indireto. You can check that in any Portuguese gramar. For instance in Cunha e Cintra give the example perdoem ao pobre tolo, where ao pobre tolo is objeto indireto.
    – Jacinto
    Oct 28, 2021 at 9:35

1 Answer 1


It is an indirect object because it requires a preposition (a in this case). Portuguese and English grammars differ in this respect. They work the same in a sentence like:

Pergunta ao João a morada dela
Ask João her address

Here ao João is the indirect object, just as João in English (except that Portuguese requires a preposition and English does not), and a morada dela / her address is the direct object. The two Languagess differ if the “old direct object” is no longer there explicitly, even though we can understand one implicitly:

Se queres saber a morada dela, pergunta ao João [implicitly understood a morada dela]
If you want to know her address, ask João

Here, I’ve now learned, in English grammar João is reanalysed as direct object, because the rule is there is an indirect object only if there is a direct one too (although some grammarians admit exceptions). In Portuguese grammar, ao João is still the indirect object even with no direct one. The best way to tell in this case is that ao João can be replaced with the indirect object pronoun (lhe) but not with the direct object pronoun (o)

O João deve saber a morada dela. Pergunta-lhe [lhe = a ele]
João probably knows her address. Ask him

It’s just the same with your example:

Se tiver alguma dúvida, pergunte a um funcionário
Se tiver alguma dúvida, procure um funcionário e pergunte-lhe

It is the other way round with verbs like interrogar, which take a direct object only:

A polícia prendeu o suspeito e interrogou-o

(You can tell the difference only with the third person: lhe(s)o(s)/a(s). For the other persons indirect and direct object pronouns coincide: me, te, nos, vos.)

Furthermore, some verbs, like telefonar, take an indirect object but cannot take a direct one:

Espera, tenho de telefonar ao João. Ok, telefono-lhe mais tarde
Wait, I have to call João. Ok, I’ll call him later

Generally: how to identify the indirect object (in most cases)

Generally the Portuguese direct object cannot have a preposition (but there are always exceptions!). So if it has a preposition it is (generally!) an indirect object or it is an adjunct. I’ll now switch to Portuguese terms to make sure there’s no confusion with English grammar. To tell whether a prepositional phrase is an objeto indireto or an adjunto try and drop it: you can still get a full sentence without the adjunto but not without the objeto indireto: vou ao cinema à noite; vou ao cinema is still fine because we only dropped the adjunto à noite; vou or vou à noite is not a full sentence because we dropped the objeto indireto ao cinema. Ao cinema is a type of objeto indireto called complento oblíquo. You can tell it because you cannot replace it with the indirect object pronoun: vou ao cinema is fine; *vou-lhe is wrong. If you can make that replacement it is a complemento indireto: telefona ao João, telefona-lhe. Again, there are a few exceptions to this!

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    Thanks a lot! And youre entirely right. I think the confusion might come from a difference in how indirect/direct objects are treated in English v romance languages. In English it is contested whether an implied direct object makes the only object of a sentence an indirect object or not, while in Portuguese that isnt the case Oct 21, 2021 at 11:15
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    The first answer here shows the difference: english.stackexchange.com/questions/203125/… Oct 21, 2021 at 11:19
  • @Vlad-zlietski, I've reformulated the answer, addressing the diference between Portuguese and English gramars early on, and added a short how-to-tell-indirect objects-from-other-things in Portuguese. To keek it short I had to overlook exceptions, sorry.
    – Jacinto
    Oct 28, 2021 at 9:29
  • Ask João whether Ana is coming. What is indirect in Portuguese, is direct in English. See it here: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/… Transitive: ask somebody if, whether, etc… She asked her boss whether she could have the day off.
    – Lambie
    Oct 28, 2021 at 13:47
  • @Lambie, ok I've now replaced all those se/whether-clauses with noun phrases, and my example and English translation are perfectly parallel... so much simpler.
    – Jacinto
    Oct 28, 2021 at 18:28

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