Indirect Questions

Introduction

Indirect questions are questions that are phrased as part of another sentence. We start the sentence with a construction such as the following:

Example:
I don’t know …
I don’t understand …
I would like to know …
Can you tell me …?

Example

I don’t know whose bag it is.

Do you know who the bag belongs to?

I would really like to know what’s in the bag.

I cannot understand how anyone could forget such a huge bag.

I am not sure whether I should take it to the lost-property office.

Sentence Structure

Sentence structure in an indirect question is different from that of a normal question. We have to note the following points:

  • In indirect questions, the subject comes before the verb. (In normal questions, the helping verb comes before the subject.)
    Example:
    How could anyone forget such a huge bag? I cannot understand it.
    → I cannot understand how anyone could forget such a huge bag.
    Whose bag is it? I don’t know.
    → I don’t know whose bag it is.
  • In indirect questions, we do not use the helping verb do. However, we may have to conjugate the main verb (in the third person singular or in the simple past).
    Example:
    Who does the bag belong to? I don’t know.
    → I don’t know who the bag belongs to.
  • In indirect questions asking for the subject ( “Who/What?”), the word order is the same as in a normal question.
    Example:
    What’s in the bag? I would really like to know that.
    → I would really like to know what’s in the bag.

Indirect questions using if/whether

For questions that can be answered with yes/no (yes-no questions), we don’t use a question word. In indirect questions, however, we need to use if or whether in this case.

Example:
Should I take the bag to the lost-property office?
→ I am not sure if/whether I should take the bag to the lost-property office.

Punctuation of Indirect Questions

For indirect questions, we normally use a full stop instead of a question mark.

Example:
I don’t know whose bag it is.

We only use a question mark if the indirect question is part of an actual question.

Example:
Do you know who the bag belongs to?

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