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Indirect Questions – English Grammar Lesson November 27th, 2017

Something that confuses many students learning English is word order when composing indirect questions. Most students know that when asking a question, we invert the subject and the verb in the word order of the sentence.

For example:

Statement: You like to sing and dance.

In a statement, the subject, you, comes first, followed by the verb, like, and then by the rest of the sentence.

Question: Do you like to sing and dance?

In a question, we begin the sentence with the helping verb, do, following by the subject, you, and then by the rest of the sentence.

However, the word order for a direct question as referenced above is not the same as when we pose an indirect question. Something curious that you will notice with indirect questions is that they are not accompanied by a question mark (?).

Let’s look at the following comparison of a direct question and an indirect question:

Direct Question: Renata said, “Where is the library?”

Indirect Question: Renata asked where the library was.

In the direct question above, we see that the question word, where, is followed by the verb, is, and the subject of the sentence, the library. This is the standard word order for questions that you are used to.

However, when we pose an indirect question, in this case in the form of reported speech, we see that there are a couple changes from the standard question word order. The most important distinction is that we do not invert order of the subject and verb in an indirect question, since we are not asking a direct question outright.

For example, we wouldn’t say:

X Renata asked where was the library.

Because we are not asking a question, but rather reporting a question in speech, we do not invert the word order.

You will also notice a change in tense of the verb, is, in the original question. In the direct question, we notice the verb, said, is in the past tense, while the verb in the direct question, is, is in the present tense. Once we change the sentence from a direct question to an indirect question, we must also modify the tense of the verb, is, changing it to the past tense, was.

Here are some more examples:

She said, “Can someone give Jeff a message for me?”

She asked if someone could give Jeff a message from her.

“Where is the dog?”

I don’t know where the dog is.

I wondered, “What is my favorite food?”

I wondered what my favorite food was.

Keeping these rules in mind, you’ll surely be able to identify direct versus indirect questions and the correct way to use them in speech!

Indirect Questions