Direct vs. Indirect Questions


You may recall that I previously posted a discussion in this group about Direct and Indirect Speech. Related to that topic are direct and indirect questions. Reporting direct questions indirectly using reported speech often gives English learners trouble, so this short lesson will discuss how to do this.


  1. To learn how to report a direct question using reported or indirect speech.


Direct questions are easy! They are just direct speech.

A: What time is it? (or “What time is it?” she asked.)

B: Why do you ask? (or “What do you ask?” he queried.)

C: Where is the train station? (or “Where is the train station?” he wondered.)

Indirect questions are a little more difficult. The problem comes when YOU must tell ME what SHE asked. Below are some examples of using REPORTED or INDIRECT speech to reports a direct QUESTION indirectly:

  1. She asked me what time it was. (or She asked me what time it is.)
  2. He asked me why I asked (him about that).
  3. He wondered where the train station was (or is).

There are four tips to keep in mind when converting a direct question into an indirect question:

  1. The question is reported as a noun clause.
    – A clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb.
    – A noun clause is a clause that acts as a noun in a larger sentence.
    – Example: She asked (what time it was).
  2. In this noun clause, the question word comes first.
    – Question words are what/why/where/who/when/how.
  3. In this noun clause, the subject-verb order is normal order instead of inverted or question order (“what time it is” instead of “what time is it“).
  4. The noun clause may use past tense or present tense.
    – Generally, the meaning is the same.
    – I typically use past tense since the asking happened in the past,
    however recent that might have been.

Self-Assessment Quiz

For the direct questions below, (1) rewrite them as indirect questions, (2) enclose the noun clause in parentheses, and (3) underline the subject and verb in the noun clause. Question 1 has been done for you as an example.

  1. He asked, “Tom, who gave that watch to you?”
  2. My dad asked, “Who are you going out with tonight, son?”
  3. That stranger asked, “Where is the closest movie theater?”
  4. My girlfriend asked, “Where are you taking me tonight?”
  5. The policeman asked, “Can I see your driver’s license, please?”
  6. “Do you know why he did it?” the detective asked the witness.
  7. “When did it happen?” I asked.
  8. “What did the teacher just say?” my friend asked.
  9. “How can I help you?” the sales lady inquired politely.
  10. “How did you know that?” my shocked friend exclaimed.

Answer to #1: He asked Tom (who gave that watch to him). (him = Tom)

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