Indirect Questions

Indirect Questions includes both Reported Questions as well as questions asked out of timidity, politeness, hesitance, etc. The core structure of both is the same, though Reported Questions have additional considerations.

What to Expect

There are two types of indirect questions, for which the response we’re looking for isn’t a literal one. The first type is worded for the sake of politeness (or sometimes hesitance) when we would like information or a favor. The second type is reported questions, which repeat a question (but not word-for-word) that someone else might have asked.

The structure is the same for both types, so the featured method covers the 3 parts of indirect question structure. Reported Questions also build off aspects of declarative Reported Speech, so it’s important to cover that prior to teaching this lesson.

Prerequisites

Learners should already be familiar with the following:

Question Words and what types of answers to expect from each: who, what, where, when, how, and why. Also ones that are followed by a category and ask for something more specific: whose, which, how many, and how much.

Yes/No Questions vs ‘WH’ Questions: although the structure of indirect questions is different from these two other types, students should know the difference between the two in terms of usage: namely that the former expects ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as an answer while the latter does not, and that the latter uses Questions words at the beginning while the former does not.

Declarative Structure is used for statements and is the most common sentence structure. For standard declaratives, the subject comes before the entire verb phrase, which comes before any objects or complements.

Students should know the 3 steps to making Reported Speech since they are used to make Reported Questions.

Proficiency Level

Students at the B2 level should be familiar with Indirect Questions. They’ll likely start learning them at an Upper Intermediate level (or 5th out of 6).*

*actual starting level varies from one course-book series to the next

INTRODUCTORY CLAUSE CRUX CONTENT
Polite Questions
a polite expression
a 'wh' word; 'if'/'whether'
a request or inquiry
Reported Questions
speaker identification
a 'wh' word; 'if'/'whether'
a repeated question

Reported Questions also need to follow the rules of standard Reported Speech.

Bonus Notes

Practice Activities

Role-Playing

A great way to practice polite or formal questions is by role-playing in which two students pretend to be strangers. The setting could be in a restaurant, a doctor’s office, a conference center, or just about anywhere. One person would play the role of a customer or client, and the other would play the role of an employee. The customer/client would then ask a short series of questions to get some information. A lot of coursebooks have specific ideas on what to role-play.

Interpretation

Ask the students to write down a few questions, perhaps personal question for you. Bring two students at a time up to the front of the classroom. One student has to express their question without using words. They can mime it or draw it, for example. The second student has to ask you (using words) what they believe the first student wants to know.

Project

Good Cop / Bad Cop

Students will act as investigators asking witnesses for information. But some witnesses will only respond to Direct Questions, some only to Indirect Questions, and some only to Commands.

Printout

Summary of Indirect Questions

Slideshow

See ‘All Series’ page for guidelines on using slideshows.

Keep on Learning; Keep on Teaching

Subject Questions

Like Indirect Questions, Subject Questions are based on the declarative structure.
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Question Tags

Like Indirect Questions, Tag Questions are based on the declarative structure.
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