Indirect Questions and Embedded Questions

Indirect questions (sometimes called embedded questions) are useful things to know. We often use them when we’re talking to strangers and we want to be polite. But they can be tricky because of the word order. In this video you’ll learn how direct and indirect questions operate differently and find out how to avoid some common mistakes.

Click here to learn about another way we’re indirect in English, when we want to drop hints.
Click here to see more grammar videos.

Indirect questions video

Do you know where I am?
Yes I know where you are.
Well, where am I?
You are at 19th and Arch.
No I’m not.
No comment.
I want to throw you in the river!
OK. The nearest river is at 17th and Arch.
No it’s not!

Where’s the Regional Rail line?

This lesson is about how to ask strangers for help. Polite questions you can ask when you need information.

Where’s the Regional Rail line? Excuse me, can you tell me where the Regional Rail line is?
Yeah, it’s that way.
Oh, thank you.

You heard two different questions. Did you catch them? Now, the first question is straight forward. You’ve got ‘where’ and then the verb ‘be.’ But look at the second one. The verb ‘be’ is at the end. Let’s look at another one.

Where is room 401? Excuse me, could you tell me where room 401 is?
Why certainly m ‘am. Just walk this way. Thank you.

‘Could you tell me…’ That one’s an embedded question; a question inside another question. The ending has the same word order as a statement. We often use these embedded questions with strangers when we’re asking for information and we want to be polite. Now, we’ve looked at questions with the verb ‘be’. But what about other verbs?

Can you tell me when the next train to Boston leaves?
8:35

Could you tell me how much a one-way ticket to Washington costs?
51 dollars.

The word order changes in these questions too. ‘Can you tell me…’ forms the question. And then after that, it’s like a statement. The auxiliary verb disappears, and the third person ‘s’ returns.

Can you tell me when the next train to Boston leaves?
Could you tell me how much a one-way ticket to Washington costs?

Now, something else.

Do you know if the train to New York is on time?
Yeah, it is.

If it’s a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, use the word ‘if.’

Do you know if there’s a restaurant car on this train?
No, there isn’t.

You can use use the word ‘whether’ in the same way as ‘if.’ Now, here’s a mistake a lot of students make. They’ll form a normal question after a phrase like ‘Can you tell me… ” or “Do you know… .” That’s wrong. Don’t do that.

Do you know if the train to New York is on time?
Yeah, it is.

Do you know if there’s a restaurant car on this train?
No, there isn’t.

And one last thing. We generally only use embedded questions at the start of a conversation.

Can you tell me when the next train to Boston leaves?
8:35
And what time does it get there?

Uh, excuse me. Could you tell me where room 401 is?
Why certainly m ‘am. Just walk this way.

Click here to see this video with a clickable transcript
Click here to learn about another way we’re indirect, when we want to drop hints.
Click here
to see more grammar videos.

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