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Business English Skill Set - Small Talk

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In this lesson we’ll take a look at how to structure embedded questions with question words (who, what, where, when, why and how.) Let’s review some of the polite expressions we saw for asking.

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

Embedded questions for questions with question words follow the same pattern to those that we have seen in the previous topic.

With yes/no questions we use if or whether, whereas with Wh- questions we simply embed the question word (who, what, where, when, why, how).

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

Direct question: “What time is it?”

Embedded question: “Please could you tell me what the time is?”

Direct question: “Where did John leave the notes from his meeting with the client this morning?”

Embedded question: “Do you know where John left the notes from his meeting with the client this morning?”

Word order for a normal question: Question Word + Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Verb

Word order for an embedded question: Polite Expression + Question Word OR If/Whether + Subject + Verb

  • Note again the inversion of the word order (in the polite question we eliminate the auxiliary ‘did’ and instead use the past form of the verb.)

What to remember when forming embedded questions:

  • For a yes/no question, we use ‘if’ or ‘whether’.
  • If there is a question word, (‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘how’) we use that word.
  • We use normal sentence grammar (so we don’t need auxiliaries ‘do’, ‘does’ or ‘did’).
  • After a polite expression, we use the affirmative sentence word order (subject + verb).