Reported Speech for Questions

If we want to say what somebody has said, we can change the person’s words into our own words. This is called reported speech.

Reported questions are one form of reported speech.

Direct questionReported question
She said: “Are you cold?”She asked me if I was cold.
He said: “Where’s my pen?”He asked where his pen was.

Reported questions are used to describe questions that someone has asked.

Direct questions and reported questions use different word orders.

‘If’ and ‘whether’

1 Closed questions

Closed questions require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Let’s consider the example:

You go to a job interview and the interviewer asks you:

  • Are you friendly and outgoing?
  • Have you done this kind of work before?

Later, you want to tell a friend what the interviewer asked you. You have two options:

a) You can repeat her words:

  • She asked me, ‘Are you friendly and outgoing?’
  • She asked me, ‘Have you done this type of work before?’

These are direct questions.

b) You can also use reported questions.

If the answer to a question in direct speech is ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ‘if’ or ‘whether’ is used to report the question. ‘Whether’ is more formal than ‘if.’

  • She asked me if I was friendly and outgoing.
  • She asked me if I had done this type of work before.

Reported questions with ‘if’ and ‘whether’ leave out the auxiliary verb ‘do.’

  • Do you want me to stay for dinner? – Ian asked me if we wanted to stay for dinner.

2 ‘Do’, ‘does’ and ‘did’

These auxiliary verbs are not used in reported questions. The past form of the verb is usually used.

  • Interviewer: ‘Do you like working as part of a team?’ – She asked me if I liked working as part of a team.

3 Choice questions

If’ or ‘whether’ can also be used to report questions that use “or” in direct speech.

  • Interviewer: ‘Do you want to work in the morning or in the afternoon?’ – She asked me if I wanted to work in the morning or the afternoon.

4 Open questions

Open questions start with wh-words (interrogative pronouns) and require providing more information. Direct open questions are reported by swapping the order of the subject and the verb.

  • What are your hobbies?
  • Where do you live?
  • Why did you apply for this position?
  • What hours can you work?

The subject comes before the verb in reported questions.

  • She asked me what my hobbies were.
  • She asked me where I lived.

To summarize:

Changing direct questions to reported questions

The change of pronoun and tense are similar to reported statements.

In addition:

a) the word order changes

b) we add ‘if’ or ‘whether’ with ‘yes’ / ‘no’ questions

  • Interviewer: ‘Can you start tomorrow?’ – She asked me if I could start the next day.

The tense in reported questions usually moves one tense back from the tense in direct questions.

  • She asked me why I had applied for the position.
  • She asked me what hours I could work.

Check out this video from British Council and learn how to use reported questions:

See also:

Reported Speech: Overview

Reported Speech: Tenses

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