Indirect Question: Definition and Examples

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A declarative sentence that reports a question and ends with a period rather than a question mark. Contrast with a direct question.

In Standard English, there is no inversion of normal word order in indirect questions: e.g., "I asked him if he was going home."

However, some dialects of English (including Irish English and Welsh English) "retain the inversion of direct questions, resulting in sentences such as 'I asked him was he going home'" (Shane Walshe, Irish English as Represented in Film, 2009). 

Examples and Observations

James J. Cramer: He slowly looked me up and down, wrinkled his nose as if I needed a shower, which I probably did, and asked if I was the guy who kept reading the Journal in the back of the room, paying no attention to class.

John Boyne: Incredibly, he asked me whether I thought I could manage the horses on my own for the time being.

Stephen L. Carter: And Lofton, well, she asked how we could tell which strangers we were allowed to harass and which ones we weren't. The sheriff got hot. I guess he hadn't thought of that. Then she asked when we were allowed to go back to doing our jobs and protecting our town.

Elizabeth George: Rodney phoned as well. He wants to know what you want on tomorrow's front page. And Miss Wallace wants to know if she should allow Rodney to continue using your office for the news meetings. I didn't know what to tell any of them. I said you'd phone when you could.

Thomas S. Kane: Indirect questions do not close with a question mark but with a period. Like direct questions, they demand a response, but they are expressed as declarations without the formal characteristics of a question. That is, they have no inversion, no interrogative words, and no special intonation. We can imagine, for example, a situation in which one person asks another, 'Are you going downtown?' (a direct question). The person addressed does not hear and a bystander says, 'He asked if you were going downtown.' That is an indirect question. It requires an answer, but it is expressed as a statement and so is closed by a period, not a query.

Geoffrey Leech, Benita Cruickshank, and Roz IvanicYes-no questions begin with if [or whether] in indirect speech. (These are questions which invite yes or no as an answer.)

'Is it raining' → The old lady asked if it was raining.
'Do you have any stamps?' → I asked them if they had any stamps.
'Can I borrow your dictionary?' → He asked her if he could borrow her dictionary.

Notice that in direct speech the questions have an inversion, but that in indirect speech the word order is normal: IF + SUBJECT + VERB... Wh- questions begin with the wh- word (how, what, when, where, which, who, whom, whose, why) in indirect speech, just as in direct speech.

'Where are you going?' → He asked her where she was going.
'When do you get up in the morning?' → I asked him when he got up in the morning.

Notice also that the word order in indirect speech is normal, i.e. SUBJECT + VERB.

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Nordquist, Richard. "Indirect Question: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Indirect Question: Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Indirect Question: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).