When learning English as a Foreign Language, reported speech (the subject of a previous blog) and reported questions can often be a tricky topic. It is such an important part of social and professional speech however, to be able to correctly talk about what others have been saying. Think of any chitter-chatter in pubs, coffee-shops or on tea-breaks at work… you’ll soon realise how important this topic is.

Counter-intuitively, the tenses, word-order and pronouns can all change when questions (and other speech) is reported. Luckily, there are just a few rules governing this – depending on what type of question is asked. So without further a-do, here they are:

Yes or No Questions

  • Original question: “Do you enjoy learning about English Grammar?”
  • Reported question: “She asked if I enjoyed learning about English Grammar”

Take a look at the first Reported Speech blog if you are unsure about why enjoy changed to enjoyed (this is present simple moving to past simple), but as a rule – if it’s a yes or no question…. Just add “if”.

Did you notice that I didn’t use an auxiliary verb (i.e. “do”) in the reported question? Take a look again:

  • Original question: “Did you work on your essay yesterday?”
  • Reported question: “He asked whether I worked on my essay yesterday.”

N.B: We wouldn’t say “He asked whether I did worked on my essay yesterday.” It just sounds a bit strange. Additionally, if it’s a Yes or No question, if or whether are both absolutely fine to use when reporting.

5Ws Questions

These are questions that contain a question word (i.e. the standard 5 Ws of what, where, when, why, who – and the honorary H of how). For example:

  • Original question: “When did you go to bed last night?”
  • Reported question: “She asked me when I went to bed last night.”

A bit like the Yes or No questions, we will use the question word (when, who, why) when we report, but remove the auxiliary verb (i.e. did/do) again. The sentence order stays the same. Take a couple more examples:

  • Original question: “Who did you go to the party with?”
  • Reported question: “He asked me who I had been to the party with. ”
  • Original question: “Why did you ignore me yesterday?”
  • Reported question: “She asked me why I had ignored her yesterday. ”

Indirect questions

Sometimes in English, it is considered polite to ask a question in an “indirect manner” rather than directly. Think of it like giving your question a bit of an introduction. To provide an example, if I was in a restaurant I might ask:

  • “Can you tell me what the specials are?” (Answer: Yes of course Sir, they are….)

Rather than just:

  • “What are the specials?” (Answer: They are….)

It just allows for a bit more formality – but indirect questions work the same way as reported questions.  If I reported this, it would go something like:

  • “She asked him if he could tell her what the specials were.”

Take a couple more examples:

  • Indirect question: “Could you let me know how long you will be on holiday?” (Answer: Yes, I will be on holiday for…)
  • Direct question: “How long will you be on holiday?” (Answer: 10 days)
  • Indirect question: “Can you tell me when the next bus arrives?”
  • Direct question: “When does the next bus arrive?”

N.B: Note the uses of can and could in the indirect examples above. There will be more on could/can, will/would etc. in subsequent blogs!

I hope that helps in all your inquisitive needs…. Have a go at putting this into practice in your everyday speech, as well as re-phrasing any queries you come across. Remember that if you are reporting a question – it won’t have a “?” afterwards though, as it essentially becomes a part of reported speech. Good luck, and any questions, just ask!

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