Indirect Questions

When we make direct question from a normal sentence, we swop the Subject of the sentence with the Auxiliary Verb. If necessary we also use a Wh? question word (which, who, what, when etc). In order to use an indirect question,the sentence structure returns back to that of a normal sentence, and we use a polite phrase to lead into the question:

DIRECTAux/Wh?SubjectVerb + .....
QUESTIONWhen wasthe housebuilt?
 Wasthe housebuilt in 1980?
 Haveyoubeen working hard?

NORMALSubjectAuxVerb + .....
SENTENCEThe housewasbuilt in 1980.
 Youhavebeen working hard.

Do you know whenthe housewasbuilt?
Do you know ifthe housewasbuilt in 1980?
Can you tell me ifyouhavebeen working hard?

Present / Past Simple

We do not use do/does/did with indirect questions in the present or past simple:

DIRECTDo/Does/DidSubjectVerb + .....
QUESTIONDoesthe filmstart at 8pm?
 Doyouknow him?

NORMALSubjectAuxVerb + .....
SENTENCEThe film starts at 8pm.
 You know him.
 They forgot.

Do you know whenthe film starts?
Could you tell me ifyou know him?
Do you know ifthey forgot?

General Principles

  1. We use indirect questions when we don’t know the person very well and/or when we are trying to be polite.
  2. We use if/whether, when the answer is yes/no.
  3. We can start indirect questions with the following:
  • Could you tell me it/whether….
  • Do you happen to know…..
  • Do you think…. Do you know…..
  • I’d be interested to hear….
  • Have you any idea…..
  • Would you mind telling me…..
  • I have no idea…..
  • I’d like to know…..
  • I’m not sure whether…..


Advanced and proficiency students don't need much controlled practice, but you might like to go through some exercises with intermediate of upper-intermediate students (A2 and B1). Get the students to convert the following questions into indirect questions:

  1. Do you know him?
  2. Did he really say that?
  3. Does it always rain in England?
  4. Did they buy that house?
  5. Does that mean what I think it means?
  6. Did you start learning English a year ago?
  7. What did she say to you?
  8. When are you going on holiday?
  9. What is your favourite food?
  10. Have you got some free time?
  11. Was he at home when you went to visit?
  12. Where did you buy that?

As a follow-on exercise, give the students some blank flashcards and get them to write their own direct questions onto them. Shuffle them up, and distribute them around the class. The students need to change them into indirect questions.

Further Exercises

Questions are such an integral part of all my lessons, especially when revising vocabulary (see Vocabulary Games), that I don't normally specifically plan exercises around them. When the students are doing role plays, interviews, or revising vocabulary by asking each other questions, I simply specify that they have to use indirect questions during that particular exercise.

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