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What Is a Retained Object?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

A retained object is a somewhat obscure part of grammatical labeling for language that generally refers to a noun that functions as an object in specific kind of sentences. One of the simplest explanations of a retained object is that it acts as an object in passive form. Passive form is a particular kind of writing that uses a more complex structure, with an implicit or indirect subject, rather than a clear and direct subject.

Some experts further describe a retained object as an object that carries over in a switch from active to passive form. To understand this phenomenon, it’s useful to be familiar with active and passive forms. An active form presents a clear, direct association of a subject with an object. For example, an active form sentence might go like this: “Joe gave the book to Suzy.” Here the subject, Joe, is referenced before either of the other two nouns in a sentence, for a result that reads clearly and demonstrates the relationship between nouns directly.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

As a contrast to the above, a passive form sentence might go this way: “The book was given to Suzy by Joe.” Here, the subject comes at the end of the sentence, but the object, the book, is carried over. This is one example of what language experts mean when they talk about a retained object.

Retained objects have radically different uses and identifiers in different languages. Some languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, have multiple types of retained objects that function differently within the language. These sorts of grammatical label applications help linguists and others to explore the function of a language in a very detailed way.

One of the prime characteristics of a retained object in the English language is its ability to maintain a consistent form throughout active and passive forms. Some experts might call this type of noun a “durable” object, or one that has consistency through different uses. Aside from being useful in language teaching, this specific type of object might also help with natural language processing, where engineers use subject and object labeling as part of parsing human language for interpretation by computers and technologies. Sorting out the references of nouns, pronouns, and other identifiers is a key component of making AI or Artificial Intelligence applications more able to “understand” human speech or text communications.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books