How to use indirect questions in English

How can you ask a polite or formal question in English? Learn how to ask indirect questions...


I'm sure during your time studying English you've asked and answered a lot of questions, such as: How old are you? Where do you live? Do you like learning English? So these are examples of what we call 'direct questions'. They're simple and they're clear, but there is another way to ask a question as well. This is what we call an indirect question, and if you want to improve your English, this is a very good way to do it! Indirect questions can help you sound more polite. They can sound more formal, if you want to sound more formal as well. Some questions use question words, such as 'who', 'where' or 'when'. Some questions use auxiliary verbs, such as 'be', 'can', 'do', 'will'. And if there's no auxiliary verb, we just use the auxiliary verb 'do'. For example: Do you like...?

However, there is another way to ask a question and this is what we call an 'indirect question'. These are useful because they can make you sound less direct, more polite and more formal if you need to. Also, sometimes questions can be a bit personal and it might seem a bit rude to ask a direct question, so that's why indirect questions are also very useful. It's a good way to sound sensitive if you're asking a personal question.

So let's look at a few examples to see what I mean. Here's the first example: How old are you? Now if you ask someone that question it might sound a bit personal or a bit rude, so if you ask an indirect question it can sound much more polite. Would you mind telling me how old you are? Here's another one. Where do you live? Do you know where you live? Do you like learning English? Can you tell me if you like learning English?

So how does the second question sound different to the first question? Obviously the second question is longer. Normally when we say something that's longer in English it sounds more polite. Also the grammatical structure changes, so we'll have a look at some examples to see how we make those changes from direct questions to indirect questions. In the first example, we change the word order of the subject 'you' and the auxiliary verb 'are'. So 'are you' becomes 'you are'. Would you mind telling me how old you are? The question now is: Would you mind telling me? This means is it OK to tell me? The 'how old you are' part is no longer a question, so this uses normal statement word order.

The second example uses the auxiliary verb 'do', because there is no other auxiliary verb, such as 'be' or 'have' or 'can' or 'will'. However, as an indirect question we drop 'do'. So...Do you know where you live? Not...Do you know where do you live? 'Do you know' is now the question, 'where you live' is a statement.

In the final example, the question is a 'yes/no' question - what we call a closed question. So we use 'if' or 'whether'. 'Can you tell me if...' or 'Can you tell me whether...'. Not...'Can you tell me do you like learning English'. Can you tell me if you like learning English. So we drop 'do' and we change for 'if' or 'whether'.

OK, so let's practise that together. I'm going to give you some example questions, direct questions, and I want you to change them into indirect questions. Get some paper if you need. It's a good idea to write these down, because they are quite complex structures and that will help you to learn them much better. Pause the video if you need more time after each example.

OK, there's a lot to learn there, a lot to think about, so it would be a good idea to watch the video again, so go back if you need to practise this again. Remember to like the video, share with your friends and subscribe to my channel and go to so you can take a course with me to help improve every aspect of your English. Good luck, keep practising and I'll see you soon.