CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

The difference between object and objective

TLDR: An object is the purpose of a thing, while an objective is a goal to be completed.

Is there a distinct difference between the words object and objective?

Disregarding the other definitions of object (a physical thing and a grammatical term used to describe a noun and its place in a sentence structure), object and objective can sometimes be used interchangeably.

object (noun)—a goal or purpose

‘Fraternising was not the object of the assignment, Mr Bond!’

The object of this sentence is to provide you with an example.

objective (noun)—a goal that is aimed for or sought

‘My objective in coming here was to return the books I borrowed.’

The soldiers returned to base having completed their primary objective.

As you may be able to tell, both examples for object and the first for objective could grammatically support both object and objective. This demonstrates that, in some contexts, neither word is more correct than the other and are essentially interchangeable. Determining which one is best in these situations, however, is not as simple as adhering to a set of rules. Sometimes, it simply comes down to what sounds the best.

‘My objective in disturbing you, sir, was to enquire about my essay.’

OR

‘My object in disturbing you, sir, was to enquire about my essay.’

To me, the first example sounds better, so that is how I would write it.

Note that the phrase ‘the object of’ appears in the first two examples above. Some nouns must be paired with a preposition in order to better demonstrate to what they actually relate and object adheres to this rule in these two instances. It is also worthwhile to mention that the noun object is mostly (but not exclusively) paired with the word the rather than my.

The object of this experiment is to split atoms.

The safe release of the hostages was the object of the highly secret mission.

However, when object does appear paired with my (or another possessive determiner such as her, his or our), it is also accompanied by a preposition, such as in. For example:

My object in returning home was to seek revenge.

However, it does sound a little awkward being used in this way and the words purpose, goal or motive might suit the context better.

My motive in returning home was to seek revenge.

So, all in all, object and objective do share the same meaning in some contexts and can sometimes be interchangeable. However, figuring out which is best to use sometimes relies on context, sentence structure, possessive determiners and prepositions.

Good luck!

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