S1E8: Embedded Questions for Politeness

S1E8: Embedded Questions for Politeness

Welcome to episode 8 of the Small Talk Audio Course. For this section of the course, we have just one vocabulary word to go over, and that is:

Shrug off (phrasal verb) – to shrug is to move one’s shoulders upwards in a manner indicating that you don’t care. To shrug off a comment or question is to dismiss it carelessly

As we have already discussed, doing business often requires more formal language than a conversation you might have with a friend or family member.

As well as saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’, there are a number of other expressions we can use to show politeness.

Which of these questions seems more polite to you:

A) Where’s the bathroom?

B) I was wondering if you could tell me where the bathroom is?

B, right?

This is an example of an embedded question, sometimes also known as an indirect question where we ask a question with a polite expression such as “I was wondering…?” or “Could you tell me…?”

In this lesson we will learn some polite expressions for asking questions as well as how to structure an embedded question. We will also learn about embedding a question in the answer.

When speaking, use a slight upwards inflection at the end of the sentence to indicate that you are asking a question.

Now, let’s look at embedded questions with Yes or No Answers

Direct questions, which elicit a yes/no answer, begin with an auxiliary verb such as the verb to be, do, did, will, can or have.

To form an embedded, or indirect question, we frame the question with a polite expression.

Embedded questions are often used when asking for information or making enquiries.

Some examples of common polite expressions are:

  • Could you tell me…/Can you tell me…
  • Do you know…
  • I was wondering…/I wondered…
  • I was wondering if you could tell me…

These can all also be used with ‘excuse me’ and ‘please’.

For example, “Excuse me, do you know whether they are open on weekends?” or “Could you please tell me if they are open on weekends?”

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Direct question – “Is the canteen on this floor?”

Indirect question – “Could you tell me if the canteen is on this floor?”

Direct question – “Did Henry attend the meeting this morning?”

Indirect question – “I was wondering whether Henry attended the meeting this morning?”


Inversion of word order

Note the change of word order when we embed a question.

Because we are embedding the question, it is technically a statement rather than a question. We invert the word order so that it follows the word order of a statement (subject first, followed by verb).

Normal word order for a question: Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Complement – Did he go…?

Word order for an embedded question: Polite statement + if/whether + subject + verb – I was wondering if he went…

In episode 9, we’ll continue with the topic of embedded questions. Thank you for listening to this original audio course from Intrepid English. To access your free downloadable worksheets and transcripts that accompany this course, click on the link in the episode notes.

This content was written and recorded by Intrepid English Teacher Kate B.

You can find out more about Kate B on her Intrepid English Teacher Profile Page.

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