1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Discuss in my forum

Kenneth Beare

Indirect Questions

By January 10, 2011

Follow me on:

Imagine this: You are standing on the corner waiting for the bus. A man walks up and asks, "What time is it?" You answer politely, but can't help thinking "That was kind of rude ...". If the man had asked: "Excuse me, do you know what time it is?", you'd probably feel that the man was polite. Direct questions (i.e. What time is it?) are often considered impolite when speaking to strangers. Indirect questions (i.e. Do you know what time it is?) are often preferable when speaking to those we don't know. If you are already familiar with indirect questions you might want to try this indirect questions quiz.


October 17, 2006 at 12:03 pm
(1) Perceli says:

I am sure it is quite normal to agree with you, but what about if the person who ask is a not a good English user? I think to all those who do not want their questions sound impolite and unfortunately it do because their poor English.

October 17, 2006 at 12:37 pm
(2) Alana Moceri says:

This is one of the most persistent trouble areas amongst my students–so thanks for addressing it–I’ll definately reference this in my blog this week or next, http://www.englishinmadrid.blogspot.com. And Perceli, of course we forgive those who are not good English speakers, but we English teachers have to aim for perfection with our students! :-)

October 17, 2006 at 1:21 pm
(3) lekbir tansaoui says:

I totally agree with you. it has happened to me recently when a passer-by wanted to light a sigar. he asked it rudely as follows: lighter to lighgt a cigarette. I have him the lighter but remained thinking of that behaviour …

October 17, 2006 at 3:48 pm
(4) Javed says:

O, that was why I got a slap on my face by my teacher when I asked him time in this way?

October 17, 2006 at 7:22 pm
(5) Michael says:

Of course the time-honoured response is: “Time to get a watch!”

October 18, 2006 at 6:54 am
(6) arun says:

Yes i really agree with u..anyway iam new subcriber to u website .iam finding your website really useful.thanks

November 1, 2006 at 1:17 pm
(7) greisy says:

I think that this page is very important because it teach us, how we have to speak with the strangers, and I am very happy byeeeee.

November 1, 2006 at 1:21 pm
(8) greisy says:


November 1, 2006 at 1:24 pm
(9) sara says:


November 1, 2006 at 1:26 pm
(10) susana says:

I think, the indirect questions are the most polite when you’re speaking whit strangers, iam agree whit this contex,because we learned another way to ask and speak, when you don’t meet the other person.

November 1, 2006 at 1:30 pm
(11) paul says:

this article was very important to me because learned all about the indirect questions and direct questions for example: i can’t say …what time is it? i should say do you know what time it is? the article is very important for it. it teach you to understand the english more perfect to speack and to ask

November 1, 2006 at 1:32 pm
(12) sergio says:

I think that the indirects questions are very important,because they give as elegance when speaking.
the direct questions are more impolite,

November 1, 2006 at 1:36 pm
(13) Diego says:

I think this page explains very good but it doesn’t have drawigs that make explanation easier.

November 1, 2006 at 1:39 pm
(14) pablo says:

i think that the indirect questions are very politely. is very important that you use those questions when you speak with people that you don’t know than you ask some friends, because those qustions make you a polite person.

April 26, 2009 at 7:20 am
(15) Ahmed al-fotihi says:

hi aslam alikum .

thanks for what’s writing in there . which helped me understanding the way how to express it and the niceist time for that.

and i was really wondering if i could find a wayto know the forms and the uses for this questions.


October 28, 2009 at 1:23 pm
(16) Liliana Espinosa says:

Hi I know this is not the topic you where talking about but I’d like you to help me with something. I want to know if the question “Do you know what my computer is wrong with? is correct or no and why? Can you help me i really needed to know. please help.

October 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm
(17) esl says:

The correct version should be:

Do you know what is wrong with my computer?

The reason is that ‘what’ functions as the subject in this question. In an indirect question, the verb needs to immediately follow the subject in the second phrase.

November 3, 2009 at 12:19 pm
(18) M Yousaf Sani says:

I would like to appreciate you for developing such a nice page for English learners like me.I am new user of this site, however the more i explore it the more i find it helping. Thanks, You are doing great job.

November 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm
(19) rct says:

ESL, I have to disagree with your example, but if you can prove I am wrong, I’ll accept it! :-)


“Do you know what is wrong with my computer” – obviously we couldn’t say “Do you know what wrong with my computer is” – so, this is not a good example to compare to “Do you know what time it is?”

Why not?

Because it’s like this:

1) You must first separate the two phrases to make it easier to understand:

First phrase: “Do you know” – it remains the same in both examples.

Second Phrase: “what time it is” – see, it remains in the regular order, not changing the position of the verb, because it’s an indirect question – with the “do” to make it. So, the rest of the phrase remains in regular order. It’s like saying: Do you know what time is? or Do you know what tie to wear? The verb comes after the subject.

Second phrase: “…what is wrong with my computer” – is like saying “something is wrong with my computer” or “My computer has something wrong” – Therefore, “something wrong” is the object, not the subject. Subject here is the computer. That’s why in your example the verb comes right after the “what” – because what (=something) is an object here, not a subject.

More examples:

Do you know what is the price of that house? (price is the object of house, so the verb comes in between “what” and the object). It’s like saying, “This house’s price is high” – which is the subject? The “house”, right?

Do you know what house it is (that I am talking about?) – similar example to “do you know what time it is?” – house is the subject, so no verb between “what” and subject.

Structure Summary:

Do you know + what + subject + verb
(Do you know + what + time it + is?)


Do you know + what + verb + object + subject
(Do you know + what + is + wrong with + my computer? )


November 4, 2009 at 6:33 am
(20) Dag says:

Hi rct, this is all fine and dandy what you are saying. However, read more carefully in the future: esl wasn’t giving that sentence as an example to be compared to “Do you know what time it is?” – she merely replied to Liliana Espinosa’s post asking for help with a sentence unrelated to the topic of the ESL blog.

As for the actual topic, I find this as an important lesson for all the learners of English. Indirect questions are indeed always best for asking strangers about the time, directions or whatever else. Although, I am pretty sure you wouldn’t be considered rude even if you did use a direct question but starting it with “excuse me”. For example, if you asked: “Excuse me, what time is it?” That may well depend on where exactly you are and whom you are asking, though – perhaps the perception of it is somewhat different in different varieties of English. It would be good to hear some native speakers’ opinions on this. Cheers.

November 6, 2009 at 12:54 am
(21) Michelle says:

I totally agree with you Dag. Being an English learner doesn’t mean you are all right to be rude. I think trying to be polite or pleasant is a good idea no matter how good/poor your English is.

November 6, 2009 at 6:15 pm
(22) rct says:


Good you noticed that! I didn’t notice it because – exactly because – the topic was unrelated. Oh, well…

November 8, 2009 at 9:35 am
(23) Sammy says:

Hi – Sometimes I have my primary students asking “Teacher what is the time now?” My question:-

1) Is it appropriate for them to ask the time?

Thanks n regards

April 12, 2010 at 9:51 pm
(24) sanatblogger says:

Truly enlighted the topics. such uses of indirect questions comes by practice and you can’t scrutinize their placement every time so cautiously. Take it casually so that while speaking it would appear automatically.

I have my own blog for students named:Educational Tips. this is the place to share their own thoughts in any educational concerns.

April 20, 2010 at 9:01 am
(25) Heidi says:

Please prepare students for the sarcastic reply. I asked a man in NYC, “Excuse me. Do you know where the subway is?” and he responded, “Yes” and walked away. True story.

April 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm
(26) Himmat says:

Hello Dear All:
Do you know that,itis so important to know in indirect speech direct speech which is happened more time with you this two case is better to understand,everybody need more comphrehesion thanks dear All in end all the best
Himmat yours believers friend

April 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm
(27) Jessicah says:


Wow! thanks for the good lesson, i agree with you it sounds rude especially if you are well conversant with the English language, it is a good lesson for learners, i have found your lessons very useful, i learn something each day! thanks again.


January 11, 2011 at 4:22 am
(28) Anjali says:

Your lesson plan is very useful for me .I want to take english writting lesson plan too, I am not able to take it please can you send me that lesson plan. that will be great help for me.

January 12, 2011 at 11:35 am
(29) Jonata says:

Great article! I’m Brazilian and I really liked the article ’cause in Portuguese this structure (Indirect Question) is very impolite! =)

July 18, 2011 at 6:03 am
(30) somchannan says:

i one a questions. What is subject line?

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.