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Indirect Questions

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Consider the following situation: You are talking to a man at a meeting that you have never met. However, you know his name and also that this man knows a colleague named Jack. You turn to him and ask:

Where is Jack?

The man seems a little bothered and says he doesn't know. He isn't very friendly. You wonder why he seems bothered...

It's probably because you didn't introduce yourself, didn't say 'excuse me' AND (most importantly) asked a direct question. Direct questions are often considered rude when speaking to strangers. To be more polite we often use indirect question forms. Indirect questions serve the same purpose as direct questions, but are considered more formal. When using an indirect question, use an introductory phrase followed by the question itself in positive sentence structure. Connect the two phrases with the question word or ‘if’ in the case the question is a ‘yes’, ‘no’ question.

Here's how to do it:

Introductory phrase + question word (or if) + positive sentence

Examples:

Where is Jack? > I was wondering if you know where Jack is?
When does Alice usually arrive? > Do you know when Alice usually arrives?

Here are some of the most common phrases used for asking indirect questions. Many of these phrases are questions (i.e., Do you know when the next train leaves?), while others are statements made to indicate a question (i.e., I wonder if he will be on time.).

Do you know … ?
I wonder / was wondering ….
Can you tell me … ?
Do you happen to know ...?
I have no idea ...
I'm not sure ...
I'd like to know ...
Have you any idea ...

Sometimes we also use these phrases to indicate that we'd like some more information.

I’m not sure…
I don’t know…

Examples:

Do you know when the concert begins?
I wonder when he will arrive.
Can you tell me how to check out a book.
I’m not sure what he considers appropriate.
I don’t know if he is coming to the party this evening.

Now that you have a good understanding of indirect questions. Take the indirect questions quiz to practice!

Related Video
ESL: Questions in English

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