Reported speech: questions

Reported speech: questions

Do you know how to report a question that somebody asked? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we can tell someone what another person asked.

direct speech: 'Do you work from home?' he said.
indirect speech: He asked me if I worked from home.

direct speech: 'Who did you see?' she asked.
indirect speech: She asked me who I'd seen.

direct speech: 'Could you write that down for me?' she asked.
indirect speech: She asked me to write it down.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Reported speech 2: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

A reported question is when we tell someone what another person asked. To do this, we can use direct speech or indirect speech.

direct speech: 'Do you like working in sales?' he asked.
indirect speech: He asked me if I liked working in sales.

In indirect speech, we change the question structure (e.g. Do you like) to a statement structure (e.g. I like).

We also often make changes to the tenses and other words in the same way as for reported statements (e.g. have donehad done, todaythat day). You can learn about these changes on the Reported speech 1 – statements page.

Yes/no questions

In yes/no questions, we use if or whether to report the question. If is more common.

'Are you going to the Helsinki conference?'
  • He asked me if I was going to the Helsinki conference.
'Have you finished the project yet?'
  • She asked us whether we'd finished the project yet.

Questions with a question word

In what, where, why, who, when or how questions, we use the question word to report the question.

'What time does the train leave?'
  • He asked me what time the train left.
'Where did he go?'
  • She asked where he went.

Reporting verbs

The most common reporting verb for questions is ask, but we can also use verbs like enquire, want to know or wonder.

'Did you bring your passports?'
  • She wanted to know if they'd brought their passports.
'When could you get this done by?'
  • He wondered when we could get it done by.

Offers, requests and suggestions

If the question is making an offer, request or suggestion, we can use a specific verb pattern instead, for example offer + infinitive, ask + infinitive or suggest + ing.

'Would you like me to help you?'
  • He offered to help me.
'Can you hold this for me, please?'
  • She asked me to hold it.
'Why don't we check with Joel?'
  • She suggested checking with Joel.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Reported speech 2: 2

Language level

Average: 4.6 (40 votes)

Submitted by rg.esl on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 17:06

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hello why does "where is the bathroom" become he asked where the bathroom *was* i.e. verb at end but "why are you late" becomes he asked why I *was* late
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 03:00

In reply to by rg.esl

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Hi rg.esl,

Good question! It's because these questions have different structures.

  • Where is the bathroom? question word + be + subject
  • Why are you late? question word + be + subject + complement

To make the reported question, the subject and 'be' reverse the order. The first question doesn't have a subject complement, but the second one does, so this is added to the end of the sentence.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohammed Khale… on Sun, 07/03/2021 - 10:31

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Greetings. How long was the training " She asked me What are the possible answers? should we always change the past simple into past perfect?
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 07/03/2021 - 13:50

In reply to by Mohammed Khale…

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Hello Mohammed Khaled Mohammed 101,

You could say either of the following:

  1. She asked me how long the training was.
  2. She asked me how long the training had been.

1 can be used in different situations, but 2 is only correct when the training was already finished at the time she asked you the question.

For example, if today is Sunday 7 March, she asked you the question on Friday 5 and the training finished on Thursday 4, then sentence 2 would be correct. Sentence 1 could also be used, but it would be a little less specific, as it could mean the training was still going to continue later (e.g. on Monday 8 March).

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Danalcade on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 18:55

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Hello, I'd like to know. Why is the first part it mentioned "direct speech: 'Who did you see?' she asked. indirect speech: She asked me who I'd seen" It means I should change to Past simple for Past Perfect but in othe part I've read Direct Speech: 'Where did he go?' Indirect Speech: She asked where he went. Directo: Past simple and Reported : past simple, Is that okay? and I want to know if you could explain to me, thanks !!

Hi Danalcade,

Good question :) Yes, both the past simple and past perfect are possible in the reported speech. Changing to the past perfect is traditionally regarded as correct, but in real life speakers often simplify by using the past simple instead. 

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Smith Jay on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 00:26

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When we report a question like ' what does he say?' can we repeort it as ' He says that he wants to go now' . I have heard it among English speakers . And I too feel it as correct. The usual way is ' He said that he wanted to go ' But if it is aksed in present tense as above, can we report it as it is. I feel no harm as langauge sometimes is arbitrary!

Hi Smith Jay,

Yes, it's possible, especially if what he said is still true at the time you report it. For example, if he said 'I want to go now' only a moment ago, you can use the present simple (He says that he wants to go) to show clearly that he still wants to go at the time you say this (i.e. in the present moment). 

Using the past simple is correct too, but is more ambiguous about whether or not he still wants to go. It may suggest that his desire to leave has changed between the past and present.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sheikh Salauddin on Wed, 24/02/2021 - 06:11

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Can we report "What's the matter?" as "He asked what was the matter"?

Hello Sheikh Salauddin,

Yes, you can, because the question 'What's the matter?' asks for the subject. When the interrogative word 'what' (or 'who' or 'which') asks for a subject, the usual word order for the reported clause (subject first, verb second) can be used, or, as is the case here, the verb can come first.

Hope that helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team