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When should you use indirect questions? Posted by on Jun 7, 2022 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary

Indirect questions might be harder to formulate, but are more polite (Photo by Olya Kobruseva: from Pexels)

Hey, everyone! I wonder how you’ve been doing. Too formal? Well, that’s because I just used an indirect question! And yes, they are supposed to be more formal than a direct question because you use them in certain situations. I notice that my students, as non-native English speakers, are more concerned about trying to express themselves correctly and get their ideias across and often overlook certain subtleties of the language. But learning how to assess a situation and properly addressing someone also goes a long way when you are communicating.

Indirect questions are commonly used when you are asking for information, approaching strangers or when you are meeting someone new. Or perhaps you don’t know someone so well and don’t want to sound too straighforward or come across as rude. They are also helpful if you want to ask someone for a favor, even it is a friend, but is trying to avoid sounding inconvenient. Who knows? Maybe you won’t get the answer you were hoping for, but at least you tried as gracefully as possible!

Essentially, you need indirect questions when you are trying to be polite or want to soften the blow. There are usually certain topics that are more delicate or private and you want to ask about those things in a respectful way. So there is usually a phrase introducing the main question. Compare the questions below:

Use them when addressing someone you don’t know (Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)

  • Where is the nearest ATM?

  • Could you tell me where the nearest ATM is?

  • Are you single?

  • Would you mind telling me if you are single?

Keep in mind that, when asking an indirect question, we invert the subject and the verb, much like we would in an affirmative sentence. The same goes for a sentence with auxiliaries like do/does/did. We simply omit the auxiliary and form the sentence in the affirmative:

  • How much did you pay for this car?

  • May I ask how much you paid for this car?

Here are some useful phrases in case you intend to ask an indirect question:

  • Do you have any idea if?

  • Could you tell me?

    You can ask smeone for a favor with indirect questions (Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels)

  • Can/Could/May I ask?

  • I wonder if/ I was wondering if

  • I would like to know

  • Is there any chance?

  • What do you do for a living?

  • Do you happen to know if?

  • Would you mind telling me?

  • Do you know if?

Now have a look at these examples:

  • I would like to know when the next train leaves.
  • I wonder if I could borrow 20 bucks.
  • Do you happen to know why the flight is delayed?
  • Would you mind telling me how old you are?
  • May I ask why you were late for the meeting?
  • Do you know if the report is ready?
  • Could you tell me where the bus station is?
  • Is there any chance you could help me move on Sunday?
  • Do you have any idea how long this is going to take?
  • May I ask you what your name is again?
  • Could I ask where the toilet is?
  • Is there any chance I could borrow your car this weekend?
  • I was wondering where Princeton avenue is.

Do you normally use indirect questions or do you prefer do get straight do the point? Let us know in the comments!

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