Understanding Grammar: Indirect questions
In this week's Premier Skills English Podcast, Jack and Rich talk about being more polite in English. One way to be more polite is by using indirect questions when you are speaking to be people you don't know well. Jack and Rich focus on how we create indirect questions and how they are different from direct questions. Your task this week is to change six direct questions into indirect questions in order to be more polite. Don't forget to listen to the end of the podcast because we have a new football phrase for you to guess, too. Enjoy!
Rich: Do you mind?
Jack: What? I just wanted to check the football scores.
Rich: I was reading the newspaper. You can’t just snatch it off me.
Jack: Oh come on, I’ll only be a second. There. Done. You can have it back.
Rich: So rude! Have you thought about asking? You could have said ‘Could I just take a look at that for a second?’ or ‘Would you mind if I borrowed the paper a minute?’
Jack: You would have said no! What were you reading about anyway?
Rich: Actually, it’s an article about politeness - being polite.
Jack: You’re joking.
Rich: Nope. It’s about how we show politeness. Here let me test you. Do you ever push in in queues?
Jack: Never. I always wait my turn.
Rich: Do you stand up on the bus for old people?
Rich: Do you ever snatch things without asking?
Welcome - Indirect Questions
Rich: Hello my name’s Rich
Jack: and I’m Jack
Rich: and welcome to this week’s Premier Skills English podcast
Jack: Where we talk about football and help you with your English.
Jack: What’s happening this week, Rich?
Rich: In this week’s podcast, we’re going to help you with some grammar and at the same time help you be more polite in English.
Jack: That’s right. We’re going to focus on indirect questions. These types of questions are really common especially when we are talking to strangers or people we don’t know very well.
Rich: We use them a lot with people we do know as well, especially if we are asking for something.
Jack: Apart from the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ which people use a lot in English indirect questions are one of the most important things to learn if you want to be polite in English.
Rich: So, we’re going to do two roleplays for you and include lots of indirect questions then look at how they differ from direct questions.
Jack: After that, we have a task for you to do to show us what you’ve learned.
Rich: Don’t forget to listen to the end of the podcast because we have this week’s football phrase for you to guess, too.
Jack: Here is the first roleplay. While you are listening, we would like you to answer these three questions.
Rich: Question one: Who is Jack speaking to? Don’t say me! Question two: Which city is Jack in? And question three: Which Premier League club is he going to watch?
Jack: That last question is difficult. Let’s see if anybody can work it out!
Jack: Hi, I’ve just checked in and I wonder if you could help me.
Rich: I’d be happy to help if I can.
Jack: I’m here for the match tomorrow but I have a few hours to see the sights this afternoon. Do you know if we are anywhere near Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament? Could you tell me how long it takes to get there?
Rich: Yes, we’re very close. It’s about a 10-minute walk from here.
Jack: Great … and could you tell me if there is anywhere nearby to go shopping?
Rich: I’d try Oxford Street or Camden Market. You can easily get everywhere on the tube.
Jack: What about food? Sorry for all the questions. Could you tell me whether there are any good restaurants near the hotel?
Rich: Yes, there are lots of good restaurants within easy walking distance. I’d recommend the Olive Tree that’s just across the road. They have the football and live music later on, too.
Jack: Sorry, just one more thing. Could you let me know where the closest underground station is?
Rich: Yes, of course. Go out of the hotel and turn right. It’s about a 100 metres down the road. It’s a two-minute walk.
Jack: Sorry for all the questions but there is just one more thing, I need to get to Stratford tube station for the match tomorrow. Have you any idea how I would get there? Could you tell me if I need to change?
Rich: Ahh, yes of course. Let me have a look. No you don’t need to change. Stay on the Central line for about eight stops.
Jack: Thank you ever so much.
Rich: Have a nice day.
Jack: In the roleplay, you just listened to I was very polite and I used lots of indirect questions to be polite. Let’s start by showing how we create indirect questions.
Rich: The first thing to remember is that after the question word we use the same word order as positive sentences. One of Jack’s indirect questions was Could you tell me how long it takes to get there?
Jack: The question word is ‘how long’ after this it’s the same as a positive sentence … it takes 10/20/30 minutes to get there. We use the third person ‘s’ with the main verb.
Rich: This is different to a direct question where we use an auxiliary verb. How long does it take to get there? We don’t use the auxiliary. verbs ‘does’, ‘do’ and ‘did’ in indirect questions.
Jack: We are sure you all know how to create direct questions so we’re going to compare direct questions with indirect questions and look at how they are different.
Rich: Many direct questions follow a QASM pattern which is question word, auxiliary verb, subject, main verb. Listen to these direct questions:
Jack: What time does the match start?, How much does this shirt cost?, When do the shops close?
Rich: All of them follow the same pattern. The indirect versions might be, ‘Could you tell me what time the football match starts?’, ‘I was wondering how much this shirt costs?’, or ‘Would you mind telling me when the shops close?’.
Jack: So, in indirect questions, we don’t use the auxiliary verbs ’do’, ‘does’ and ‘did’ and the main verb may need the third person ‘s’.
Rich: But there are a couple of other things to remember when using indirect questions. The first is when we’re using the verb ‘to be’. Listen to this example that Jack said earlier.
Jack: ‘Could you let me know where the closest underground station is?’
Rich: The direct question is ‘Where is the closest underground station?’. It doesn’t follow the QASM pattern. We move the verb to be. This is called inversion which is when we put the verb before the subject.
Jack: In indirect questions, we don’t use inversion, we say, ‘Do you know where the football stadium is?’.
Rich: The verb to be in indirect questions follows the same pattern as other verbs. A common mistake is, ‘Could you tell me where is the football stadium?’
Jack: A second thing to remember is when we use the words ‘if’ and ‘whether’ with indirect questions.
Rich: In the roleplay, Jack said these two questions: ‘Could you tell me if there is anywhere nearby to go shopping?’ and ‘Could you tell me whether there are any good restaurants near the hotel?’
Jack: The direct questions are: ‘Is there anywhere to go shopping near here?’ and ‘Are there any good restaurants near the hotel?’
Rich: These are yes/no questions, they don’t have a question word. When we make these questions indirect we add if or whether.
Jack: And the rest of the question is like a positive sentence; remember, we don’t move the verb ‘to be’ like in direct questions.
Rich: Finally, when we use indirect questions we begin the question with a polite phrase.
Jack: One of the most common ones is ‘Could you tell me …’
Rich: But, there are plenty of others such as: ‘Do you know …’, ‘I was wondering if…’ ‘Do you have any idea …’, ‘I’d like to know …, ‘Would it be possible…’ and ‘Is there any chance …’
Jack: We look at these phrases a little more on the website below this podcast. You can find activities, explanations and tasks for you to do for all of our podcasts on the Premier Skills English website.
Rich: You are now going to listen to a second roleplay. This time Jack isn’t so polite. He uses direct questions rather than indirect questions.
Jack: Your task is to identify the direct questions and change them to indirect questions.
Rich: There are six for you to spot and change.
Rich: Thanks ever so much for coming today. Before we finish, do you have any questions about the job?
Jack: What’s the salary?
Rich: Err … sorry?
Jack: The salary. How much money do I get?
Rich: Yes, well, that is something that depends on your qualifications and experience. We did send the salary scales in the email we sent to you.
Jack: Ah yes, of course. And holidays. How many days holiday do I get?
Rich: Again this was in the email. In the first year you will get twenty days plus public holidays. Your holiday entitlement will increase the longer you stay with the firm.
Jack: I see. Mmm …and hours. What time do we start work? Do you have flexitime?
Rich: The working day is seven and a half hours. You can start at any time between eight and ten.
Jack: Right, I see, and one more question. When do I start?
Rich: yes. Er ...We will be in contact later this week.
Jack: I’m not sure if I would get that job.
Rich: I doubt it. You could have asked a few more questions about the job not just about what you are going to get.
Jack: And if you do ask questions like this you should try to ask them in a much more indirect way.
Rich: We asked you to identify six questions in the roleplay that could be made more indirect and your task this week is to make these direct questions more indirect.
Jack: The questions are:
Rich: Number one: What’s the salary?
Jack: Number two: How much money do I get?
Rich: Number three: How many days’ holiday do I get?
Jack: Number four: What time do we start work?
Rich: Number five: Do you have flexitime?
Jack: Number six: When do I start?
Rich: Remember to start each indirect question with a polite phrase like ‘I was wondering if ..’ or ‘Could you tell me …’
Jack: Remember that we don’t use auxiliary verbs like ‘do’ and ‘does’.
Rich: Remember that if the direct question is a yes/no question you should use ‘if’ or ‘whether’ in the indirect question.
Jack: Remember that the structure of indirect questions is the same as positive sentences after the question word, for example, Could you tell me what time he gets up is the same as he gets up at seven o’ clock.
Rich: Write your six indirect questions in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Rich: Have you got a football phrase for us this week?
Jack: Yes, I have, but first, last week’s football phrase. The phrase was offside trap. This is a tactic that football teams play in defence. The idea is that the defenders move up the field at the same time so that the attackers are in an illegal position when the ball is passed to them.
Rich: Well done to Lakerwang from China, Rafael Robson from Brazil, Liubomyr and Sabanoleg from Ukraine, Milos from Serbia, Zaid from India, Kwesimanifest from Ghana and Ahmed Adam from Sudan. All of you got it right! What’s this week’s phrase, Jack?
Jack: This week’s football phrase is to be given your ******** ******. The phrase means the same as to be given a red card or to be sent off. The player was given his ******** ****** by the referee. The phrase can also be used to mean to be sacked or fired from your job. The phrase was originally used in the army and described the instructions soldiers were given to walk from one place to another.
Rich: Right, that’s all we have time for this week! Don’t forget to write your answers to the task in the comments section below.
Jack: And make a guess at our football phrase. Bye for now and enjoy your football!
How much did you understand?
In the podcast, Rich and Jack used some words and phrases that might be new for you. Do you know the words in bold?
I was reading the newspaper. You can’t just snatch it off me.
Do you ever push in in queues?
I need to get to Stratford tube station for the match tomorrow.
There were a few more tricky words and phrases in the podcast. Do you know what they all mean? Try the activity below, then, listen to the podcast again to hear how we used the words. This can really help your understanding.
In this week's podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about indirect questions. They talked about how we can use them to be more polite when we are speaking to people that we don't know or when we want to ask questions in more formal situations. Let's take a look at how we create indirect questions.
Indirect questions follow the same pattern as positive sentences:
Could you tell me how long it takes to get there?
Could you tell me when the match starts?
In an indirect question, the question word (how long and when in the examples above) is followed by the subject (it and the match) and then the verb. This is the same as positive sentences:
It takes 20 miutes to get there.
The match starts at three 'o' clock.
Indirect questions don't use the auxiliary verbs 'do', 'does and 'did':
Look at these questions. Which questions are direct and which questions are indirect?
When do the shops close?
Would you mind telling me when the shops close?
How much does this shirt cost?
I was wondering how much this shirt costs.
When we use indirect questions you may need to add the third person 's' to the verb as in the final example above.
Indirect yes/no questions use 'if' or 'whether':
If a question doesn't have a question word (what, when, how, where etc.) you need to add either 'if' or 'whether' to an indirect question. Look at the questions below. Which are direct questions and which are indirect questions?
Are there any good restaurants near the hotel?
Could you tell me whether there are any good restaurants near the hotel?
Is there anywhere to shopping near here?
Could you tell me if there is anywhere nearby to go shopping?
Take a look at the following activity that includes more indirect expressions. Can you write the right answer?
When we use indirect question we usually begin the question with a polite phrase. One of the most common polite phrases used with indirect questions is 'Could you tell me ...'. Look at some of the indirect questions Rich and Jack used in the podcast. What are the polite phrases at the beginning of each question?
Would you mind telling me when the shops close?
Could you let me know where the closest underground station is?
Have you any idea how I would get there?
Do you know if we are anywhere near Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament?
Indirect questions often start with 'I wonder' or 'I was wondering'. These don't need a question mark (?) because they are written as statements rather than questions. Here's an example from the podcast:
I wonder if you could help me.
I was wondering how much this shirt costs.
Take a look at the next activity. Can you choose the right words for each gap?
Direct Questions > Indirect Questions
In the second roleplay, you heard Rich interviewing Jack for a job. Jack used a few too many direct questions in the interview. This meant that he sounded rude and not polite; he probably won't get the job. Your task is to change the six direct questions into indirect questions. Here are the six direct questions:
- What’s the salary?
- How much money do I get?
- How many holidays do I get?
- What time do we start work?
- Do you have flexitime?
- When do I start?
When you write the indirect questions remember these three things:
- Start each indirect question with a polite phrase such as 'Do you know ...' or 'Could you tell me ...'.
- We don't use auxiliary verbs 'do', 'does' and 'did' in indirect questions.
- Use 'if' or 'whether' in indirect questions if there is no question word.
Write your answers in the comments section below.