S2E4: Extremely Formal English

S2E4: Extremely Formal English

What are direct and indirect questions?

When asking for information we use direct questions. Such as, ‘where is it?’ In business, however, we use indirect questions because they’re polite and more formal. So, instead of saying, ‘where is it?’ we would say, ‘can you tell me where it is?’ Notice that an indirect question contains a direct question:

Can you tell me (indirect) + where it is (direct) = Indirect question/sentence

This is because we use the direct question as part of the indirect question/statement. Here’s another example:

Direct question: Where is the station?

Indirect question: Could you tell me where the station is, please?

Here are some rules to follow when forming indirect questions:

  • Always keep the question word.
  • If a question word isn’t provided, then use ‘whether’ or ‘if’.
  • We use the normal word order for a sentence (subject + verb).

We can also use indirect questions as part of statements. The indirect part of the question then becomes a noun clause and can be used like a noun. So, we can use it as the object, main clause or subject. For example the direct question would be: Where do you work?

And the indirect question as a statement would be: I work at McArthur’s Bank.

(‘I work’ is the object here.)

Here is another example: the direct question would be: How long have you worked here?

When the indirect question as a statement would be: I have worked here for nearly five years.

(‘I have worked’ becomes the subject/main clause.)

Here are some examples of verbs that are often used in indirect questions.

I will first mention the verb, then give an indirect question example followed by a direct question example.

VerbIndirect question exampleDirect question example
Find outHow am I going to find out what their budget is?What is their budget?
Be sureCan you be sure you’ve found out everything they want?  What did they want?
RememberDo you remember what they said?What did they say?
Think aboutHave you had time to think about your decision?What’s your decision?
KnowAre you sure you know what you’re doing?Do you know what you’re doing? Or what are you doing?
ForgetHave you forgotten what the task is?Have you forgotten?
WonderHave you wondered why it takes you so long to complete a task?Have you wondered why? / Have you wondered?

Stay tuned for episode 5. We will discuss common mistakes in Business English.