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 (41 votes)
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Submitted by AdamCs on Thu, 13/06/2024 - 20:57

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Hi guys,

What happens to questions in reported speech if the question refers to either a habitual status or uses "ever" to convey the meaning of any time? Can either work in Simple Past as the general rule dictates?

1. Where do you usually buy your clothes?

Is "She asked me where I usually bought my clothes." correct?


2. Do you ever go to the cinema?

Is "She asked me if I ever went to the cinema." correct?

Thank you.

Hi AdamCs,

Tense backshifting in reported speech is not obligatory and choosing not to shift the tense back adds extra information as it describes a situation that was true at the time of speaking and is still true at the time of reporting. For example:

"I love you," she said.

  1. She said she loved me.
  2. She said she loves me.

Sentence 1 tells us that she loved me when she said it. It does not tell us anything about now - she may still love me or she may not. Sentence 2 tells us that she loved me when she said it and she loves me now.

 

In your examples you have a similar choice:

Where do you usually buy your clothes?

  1. She asked me where I usually bought my clothes.
  2. She asked me where I usually buy my clothes.

In sentence 1 she wanted to know your buying habit at that time - it may or may not still be the same. In sentence 2 we understand that your buying prefences have not changed.

Do you ever go to the cinema?

  1. She asked me if I ever went to the cinema.
  2. She asked me if I ever go to the cinema.

In sentence 1 she asked about your cinema habit at a particular time in the past - you may have changed since then. In sentence 2 we understand that your cinema habit is the same now as it was when she asked you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi PeterM,

Thank you, I appreciate your input. I had the same idea, but the student books I've checked don't mention this option. They only state that if you report what someone said very soon after they said it, you don't need to change the tense. I wonder why these student books don't make it clear. It would help teachers and students alike, so I'm really grateful you helped clarify this.

Submitted by hangng89 on Sat, 04/05/2024 - 03:46

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I was wondering how a SUBJECT QUESTION in direct speech is changed, (A) or (B) is correct?

direct speech: "Who is her best friend?" they asked.

indirect speech: 

(A) They asked who her best friend was. --> I'm following the rule: S then V.

(B) They asked who was her best friend. --> I'm not following the rule, but I feel (B) sounds good although I don't know why I feel that way.

Thanks for your help.

Hello hangng89,

In reported questions we do not invert the word order as we do in normal questions. It does not matter if it is a subject question or an object question. The correct form here is (A) - ...who her best friend was.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much.

Can I also ask this (I'm still a bit confused)? 

I think it's correct to write the reported question: (A) She wanted to know which planet was the closest to the sun. 

But is it grammatically correct if I write: (B) She wanted to know which was the closest planet to the sun. Because it seems similar to the "... who was her best friend" that you just said to be incorrect.

Hello again hangng89,

Again, the correct form is without inversion (A). However, in this case you can come across use of the non-standard form from time to time, especially in informal, conversational contexts.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir, is it ok if we say: She wanted to know which planet the closest to the sun was  ? 

and  I also wonder if A - He asked his professor what the conditions were for a planet to have life on it. 

and B - He asked his professor what were the conditions for a planet to have life on it.  Which one is correct, A or B?

Thanks for the help!

Hello thule,

These are embedded or reported questions and no inversion is required, so the correct forms are as follows:

She wanted to know which planet was the closest to the sun? 

He asked his professor what the conditions were for a planet to have life on it. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team