English grammar – Indirect questions

Form & 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, if or whether is used. 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?

Related grammar points

Reported questions
Tag questions

1 teaching idea or comment

  1. Ben

    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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