Embedded or included questions are used in two main situations: when we ask for information indirectly or when we report questions. This is common in more passive, or softer English (“Do you know…”), for reported speech (“She told me where…”) or to discuss a question without directly asking it (“I don’t know why…”). Embedded questions are noun phrases, so they use regular word order. The following article will explain when and how to use them, and is followed by some exercises.
When to use embedded questions
We usually ask indirect questions to soften the question, often for politeness, for example “Do you know where the bathroom is?” (Rather than the harder, direct question “Where is the bathroom?”). We may also ask an indirect question when we are discussing someone who is not in the conversation, for example “Do you think he knows the way home?”
We can report questions to feedback, as in reported speech, for example “He told me where the bathroom was.” We may also use embedded questions to report that we have a question, but we are not directly asking it, for example “I wonder what time it is.”
How to form embedded questions
Embedded questions are always formed using a noun clause. This means it must use noun clause word order, subject + verb, not the usual question form. The embedded question (noun clause) is the object of a verb.
For example, “I know what his name is.” The embedded question is what his name is, a noun clause that is the object of know.
For information questions, using question words (when, what, where, why, whose, which, how), the noun clause should begin with the question word. For example “Do you know when the taxi will arrive?”
If the question asks for a yes/no response, the noun clause should begin with “if” or “whether”. For example, “Do you know if the taxi is coming?”
For questions formed with the verb to do, remove the verb to do from the embedded question. For example, “What do you want?” would become “He asked what I wanted.”
In questions the verb of the question is usually in a bare infinitive form; when it is part of a noun phrase it should agree with the noun, with the correct tense. For example, we might ask “What did he say?”, but as an embedded question say “I don’t know what he said.”
Embedded Questions Exercise 1: Indirect Questions
Change the following questions to embedded questions.
1. Where is the toilet?
Can you tell me …
2. When will we get there?
Do you happen to know …
3. What time is the train leaving?
Could you let me know …
4. How much money does he earn?
Do you know …
5. Is there any more cake?
Can I ask you …
Embedded Questions Exercise 2: Reported Questions
1. What does he do for a living?
He told me …
2. Who is she?
I found out …
3. Are there any biscuits left?
Do you think she will tell me …
4. Can I use my phone here?
I don’t know …
5. What time is their flight?
I can’t tell you …
Answers to Exercise 1
1. Can you tell me where the toilet is?
2. Do you happen to know when we will get there?
3. Could you let me know what time the train is leaving?
4. Do you know how much money he earns?
5. Can I ask you if there is any more cake?
Answers to Exercise 2
1. He told me what he does for a living.
2. I found out who she is.
3. I think she will tell me if there are any biscuits left.
4. I don’t know if I can use my phone here.
5. I can’t tell you what time their flight is.
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