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 question||Reported 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.
Changing direct questions to reported questions
The change of pronoun and tense are similar to reported statements.
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: