How and When to Use Indirect Questions

Hello, everyone!

Today we’re going to look at indirect questions.

There 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?

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?

DirectWhat car do you drive?
IndirectWould you mind telling me what car you drive?

“If” and “Whether”

If there is no question word (who, what, 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!


  1. I find this grammar material very useful.

  2. Hi Kate..I love your posts.You help me a lot. Do you know how can I improve my speaking? I’m from Brazil and I’d like to find people to talk in English, but it’s not that easy. If you kown someone could you tell me? Thank you a lot. Hugs

    • Hi Maura,

      Thanks for your question. If you want to meet people in person to practise, you can check if there are any language exchanges in your area by searching online. Let me know how things go.


  3. It is so helpful for me thank you very much

  4. Thanks I improve my English everyday.

    • Hey, thanks for your comment- we are glad that your English is improving. If you are unsure how much your English has improved, why don’t you take our free level test? Just click on this link: Let us know your results 🙂

  5. how can we teach indirect questions inductively? do you have any idea ?

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