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How and When to Use Indirect Questions

Today we’re going to look at indirect questionsThere are two main ways of asking questions in English: directly and indirectly. Both have the same meaning. However, we use indirect questions when we want to be more polite or more formal.

Look at the following example of a direct question:

Where is the nearest train station?

To be more polite or formal, ask an indirect question, for example:

Could you tell me where the nearest train station is?

Sentence Structure and Word Order

When we form indirect questions, the question becomes part of a longer sentence or question and the word order in the direct question changes.


Direct: What time is it?
Indirect: Do you know what time it is?

Direct: Why were you off work yesterday?
Indirect: Can you tell me why you were off work yesterday?

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Direct: When did you move to Holland?
Indirect: Would you mind telling me when you moved to Holland?


No Auxiliary Verb “Do”

When we turn direct questions into indirect questions, we don’t use the auxiliary verb “do”. 


Direct: When does the lesson end?
Indirect: Could you tell me when the lesson ends?

Direct: What car do you drive?
Indirect: Would you mind telling me what car you drive?


“If” and “Whether”

If there is no question word (whowhat, etc) in the direct question, we need to use if or whether in the indirect question.


Direct: Did she get to work on time today? 
Indirect: Can you tell me if/whether she got to work on time today? 

Direct: Is this the right train for Baker Street?
Indirect: Do you have any idea if/whether this is the right train for Baker Street?

Direct: Are they Italian? 
Indirect: Do you know if/whether they are Italian? 

Note that we don’t usually need to change the tense of the verb as we do with reported questions.

Some students find it difficult to remember to put the verb after the subject, especially when the indirect question is in the present simple tense of the verb “to be”. 

Could you tell me where the library is?
NOT: Could you tell me where is the library?

Please note that indirect questions are NOT the same as reported questions.

We will look at reported questions in a future post!

Author Bio: This post was written by Brandon, a teacher from ABA English. ABA English–the American & British Academy–is an online academy specializing in teaching English with a unique learning methodology based on the principles of natural learning methods. ABA English teaches you English through short films that take place in real-life situations with 144 free video classes. Go to ABA English and start improving your English with your free 144 video classes.


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2 Responses to How and When to Use Indirect Questions

  1. Gopal Bhattarai June 29, 2018 at 9:02 am #

    What is the indirect question of ‘Was he alone?’ Did you notice…?
    Did you notice if he was alone? or Did you notice if he had been alone?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 4, 2018 at 1:03 pm #

      Hi Gopal,

      You could say “Did you notice if he was alone” as an indirect question here! You could also say “Could you tell me if he was alone” or “Do you know if he was alone?” 🙂

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