Linguistic Terms

Indirect questions in English

Types of indirect questions

Indirect questions in English?

Indirect questions serve to ask in a more polite way or to narrate what another person has asked. We are going to tell you how to build them:

  • 1 Direct and indirect questions
  • 2 Types of indirect questions
  • 2.1 Closed indirect questions
  • 2.2 Open indirect questions

Direct and indirect questions

Let’s look at an example of a direct question:

How old are you?
How old are you?

The indirect question would be:

I need to know, how old are you
need to know how old you

Indirect questions are formed by a complex sentence, that is, a main sentence plus a subordinate sentence. “I need to know” is the main sentence and “how old you are” is the subordinate sentence.

Look closely: the verb in the subordinate sentence is placed after the subject , that is to say that the inversion of the subject and the verb of the direct interrogative sentences does not occur in the indirect interrogative sentences.

Types of indirect questions

There are 2 types of indirect questions:

  • Closed questions (which are those that can be answered with yes or no)
  • Open questions (which are those that need an interrogative pronoun or an interrogative adverb)

Closed indirect questions

Closed indirect questions are formed with the if preposition :

I do not know if I must laugh or cry
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry

Open indirect questions

Open indirect questions can be constructed with any interrogative particle:

Can you tell me what I should do now?
Can you tell me what should I do now?

Special case: Interrogative pronoun subject of the sentence

If the interrogative particle is subject, one must be very careful not to be wrong with the placement of the verb.

Direct interrogation:

Who is your best friend
Who is your best friend?

Indirect interrogation:

tell me who is your best friend
tell me who is your best friend


But if you translate this type of question literally or directly, you will say it wrong in English:

Do you know where is the station ?
Can you tell me who is that man ?

Basically, the auxiliary verb at the beginning of the sentence – Do ; Does, Did , Can , Will , etc. – form the question so after the interrogative word – where, why, what, when , etc. – the order of a sentence is maintained , that is, subject + verb . For example:

Do you know where the station is?
Do you know where the station is ?
subject + verb
[Literally: Do you know where the station is?

Can you tell me who that man is?
Can you tell me who that man is ?
subject + verb
[Literally: Can you tell me who that man is?

Do you know what time it is?
Do you know what time it is *?
Do you know what time is it ?

[* Note : it is a it’s (or is with any noun) when they are the last two words of the sentence.]

If you translate literally, you really ask two questions:

1. Do you know? 2. where is the station?

And there are not two questions but one.


In the same way, no auxiliary verb is placed after the interrogative word. The order of a subject + verb phrase is simply maintained. For example:

Can you tell me what you want?

Can you tell me what you want? Can you tell me what you want?
Can you tell me what do you want?

Do you know when the concert starts?
Do you know when the concert starts ?
Do you know when does the concert start ?
Do you know when starts the concert ?

Do you understand why they have changed it?
Do you understand why they have changed it?
Do you understand why have they changed it?


This rule also applies to orders – the imperative – and other phrases, for example:

Tell me where the pen is.
Tell me where the pen is .
Tell me where the is pen .

I don’t know how much the sofa costs.
I don’t know how much the sofa costs.
I don’t know how much does the sofa cost .
I don’t know how much costs the sofa .

In fact, this type of sentence is not even a question, so there is no reason to use the structure of a question.


And if there is a preposition in front of the interrogative word, don’t forget it; It is usually placed at the end of the sentence. For example:

Can you tell me in which you are interested?
Can you tell me what you’re interested in ?

You know in what they are thinking?
Do you know what they’re thinking about ?

Do you understand of what you are afraid your friend?
Do you know what your friend’s afraid of ?

You can see more examples of this type of prayer in the post Prepositions in English: Why at the end of the sentence?

Now it’s your turn to practice a little. How do you translate the following? Answer below.

1. Can you tell me how much it is?
2. Do you know why it’s broken?
3. I don’t understand what you need.
4. Tell me where I can find it.
5. Do you know what they’re speaking / talking about?

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