English grammar - indirect questions

- - Indirect questions

Form and meaning

  1. If we do not begin a question directly, but begin it with something like Can you tell me...? Do you know...? I wonder if...? the word order is the same as in an affirmative statement.
    • Direct question: What is he doing?
      Indirect question: Do you know what he is doing?
    • Direct question: Where have they been?
      Indirect question: I wonder where they have been?
  2. If the direct question contains the auxiliary do, we omit it in the indirect question.
    • Direct question: What do you want?
      Indirect question: Can you tell me what you want?
    • Direct question: When did she leave?
      Indirect question: Do you know when she left?
  3. In yes / no questions, we use if or whether. The word order is the same as in reported questions.
    • Direct question: Have you seen my dog?
      Indirect question: Could you tell me if you have seen my dog?

Ideas for teaching indirect questions

How do you teach indirect questions? Add your idea ยป

I teach this with the concept of permission.
- with a direct question the person being questioned has two options: answer the question or ignore it (ignoring it would be impolite)
- with indirect questions the person being questioned is presented with two parts :
Can I ask (permission)
The question
They have the choice of saying "no you cannot ask" or answering the question - both are polite.
I use very direct questions when expanding this idea in front of a group.
How much do you earn ?
Are you looking for a new job ?
Who are you dating at the moment ?
With these questions the student would rather not answer them in front of a group - so has to choose the "no you can't ask" variation. Works for me :-)

I present this as 'polite commands' -

Rude: Tell me what time it is!
Polite: I was wondering if you could tell me what time it is?

Rude: Give me a pen!
Polite: Could you give me a pen?

Rude: Move!
Polite: Would you be able to move, please?

So lesson is: 1) be rude, 2) what can we say to be polite (Could you..., I was wondering if...?) 3) now put them together - but DO NOT change the word order of the rude command.

Getting students to transform real questions into indirect questions is very confusing for them - and artificial since the basic underlying sentence is a command, not a question. As such, it does not change. It's best to teach this in isolation from indirect speech since syntactically they are actually completely different things.

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