How do you ask a stranger for directions? Would you rather say, “Where is Collin Drive?” or “Do you have any idea where Collin Drive is?” Perhaps you might say, “I was wondering where Collin Drive is.” These three sentences are examples of direct and indirect questions.
In this article, I will discuss the definition and examples of indirect questions. Learn how to transform direct questions into indirect questions (and vice versa) using the correct sentence structure. Then, answer the worksheet I provided to test your knowledge of the topic.
What Is an Indirect Question?
An indirect question in the English language is a type of question embedded in declarative sentences or other questions. Here’s an indirect question example.
- Mae asked if I liked cheese.
The word if can be replaced by whether. This indirect question is a direct question within a statement or a declarative sentence. If this statement were a direct question, the sentence structure would be in the form of a normal question.
- Do you like cheese?
Unlike direct questions, indirect questions are statements. They do not start with interrogative adjectives like how, what, why, where, when, whose, and who.
Easy Examples of Indirect Questions
Let’s take a look at more examples of indirect questions in conversations and other real-life scenarios.
- I wonder if Gino knows the meaning of exclamatory sentences.
In this sentence example, the embedded question is, “Does Gino know the meaning of exclamatory sentences?” Therefore, it’s a direct question within a declarative sentence.
- Does she know whether Julia is sleeping?
This sentence is a question within a question or an interrogative sentence. The embedded direct question is, “Is Julia sleeping?”
- Please check when the store is closing.
This is a direct question within a command or an imperative sentence. The embedded direct question in the sentence is, “When is the store closing?”
- I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
This beautiful quote is a direct question within a declarative sentence. The lengthy direct question is, “Would it be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond?”
- Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. (Katherine Hepburn)
This is another direct question within a declarative sentence. The direct question embedded in the statement is, “Do men and women really suit each other?”
Do Indirect Questions Have Question Marks?
A complete sentence in the form of an indirect question may have a question mark if it’s in question form. For example:
- Direct question: Where is the post office?
- Indirect question: Would you tell me where the post office is?
But if the indirect questions are not in the form of interrogative sentences, do not use a question mark. Below are examples of indirect questions using a positive sentence structure.
- Incorrect: I want to know where the post office is?
- Correct: I want to know where the post office is.
- Incorrect: Please tell me if you need anything?
- Correct: Please tell me if you need anything.
How to Write an Indirect Question
An indirect question’s structure may include modal verbs can, could, and would when we make requests. This construction is a polite way to ask for information from people, especially strangers and coworkers.
Some common indirect question phrases include “Can you tell me…?” and “Do you have any idea…?” Then, we add the word order of a normal positive sentence.
To form indirect questions for tenses that make questions with inversion, be sure to add the word if.
Below is an example of a direct question and its corresponding indirect question that uses one of the most common question phrases.
- Direct question: Where is Holly Street?
The word order here is verb-subject: verb is, then subject Holly Street.
- Indirect question: I want to know where Holly Street is.
The word order in this indirect question is subject-verb, the subject being Holly Street and the verb is. Here’s an interrogative form of the indirect question.
- Indirect question: May I ask where Holly Street is?
Yes/no questions may also take indirect question forms. These questions do not have interrogative adjectives like why, what, and who. For example:
- Direct question: Did he call?
To turn it into an indirect question, you may use the phrase “Do you know…?” and then the subordinating conjunction if or whether.
- Indirect question: Do you know if he called?
Here’s how to transform a direct yes/no question into an indirect question using the present continuous verb.
- Direct question: Is she enjoying the party?
- Indirect question: Do you know whether she’s enjoying the party?
For past continuous verbs, the structure is almost identical. For example:
- Direct question: Were you playing the piano yesterday morning?
- Indirect question: Can you tell me if you were playing the piano yesterday morning?
The rule is the same for perfect verb tenses. Consider the example below.
- Direct question: Has the food gone bad?
- Indirect question: Do you know if the food has gone bad?
If the verb tense is in the present perfect continuous, we still use the same word order as the other tenses.
- Direct question: Has she been reading new novels lately?
- Indirect question: Can you tell me if she has been reading new novels lately?
The sentences below use the simple future simple tense with the phrase going to.
- Direct question: Are you going to dance later?
- Indirect question: Can you tell me if you are going to dance later?
I usually use imperative sentences when asking for favors. But requests may also include an indirect question phrase like “Is there any chance…?” or “Would it be possible…?” and the noun clause afterward. Read the sentences below.
- Direct question: Can you please help me find my old purse later?
- Indirect question: Is there any chance you could help me find my old purse later?
- Indirect question: Would it be possible for you to help me find my old purse later?
Notice how the direct question still sounds like a huge request, even with the word please. You might be too embarrassed to say it to an acquaintance or coworker. So, you would instead use the indirect question version.
The indirect question also lets the listener understand that the request is a huge one. It may take extra effort or commitment.
Another common indirect question phrase for requests is “I was wondering…” When using this phrase, we do not use question marks. Instead, the sentence is in declarative form. For example:
- Indirect question: I was wondering if you could help me find my old purse later.
This phrase is a fantastic option if you don’t want to sound demanding when asking for a favor.
Below is another set of sentence examples.
- Direct question: Did you finish the article?
- Indirect question: Can you tell me if you finished the article?
- Indirect question: I was wondering if you finished the article.
Which indirect question form do you think sounds nicer and less demanding?
Indirect Questions in a Nutshell
Any sentence that reports a question or a statement with an embedded question is called an indirect question. When constructing indirect questions, remember that there is no inversion of the word order.
Use indirect questions to sound more polite when asking for information or making requests. Structure your sentences like so when you don’t know the person with whom you’re talking.