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Business English Skill Set - Small Talk

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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…