Embedded Questions


An embedded question is a question that is included inside another question or statement. They are common after introductory phrases, such as:

I wonder
Could you tell me
Do you know
Can you remember
Let's ask
We need to find out
I'd like to know
I'm not sure
Would you mind explaining

Five Rules for Using Embedded Questions

Rule One

If the embedded question is part of a statement, use a period and not a question mark at the end of the sentence. Also, if the question is in the present or past simple verb tense, omit the auxiliary verbs do, does, and did and change the verb to its appropriate form, as in the example below.

Direct Question What time did he leave?
Embedded Question I wonder what time he left.

Rule Two

If the embedded question includes an auxiliary verb or the verb "to be", reverse the positions of the subject and the auxiliary verb, as in the examples below.

Direct Question What did he say?
Embedded Question Could you tell me what he said?
Direct Question Can you help me?
Embedded Question I wonder if you could help me.
Direct Question Is he a doctor?
Embedded Question Do you know if he is a doctor?

Rule Three

Do not use a verbal contraction at the end of the sentence.

Direct Question Where is she?
Correct Embedded Question Do you know where he is?
Incorrect Embedded Question Do you know where he's?

Rule Four

Embedded questions are introduced by whether, whether or not, and if when there is no question word in the sentence (yes/no questions).

Direct Yes/No Question Will he be there?
Embedded Question Do you know if he will be there?
Do you know whether or not he will be there?
Do you know whether he will be there or not?

Rule Five

The infinitive can follow a question word or whether in embedded questions, as in the following example.

Direct Question What should I do?
Embedded Question Please tell me what I should do.
Embedded Question with an Infinitive Please tell me what to do.


Using Embedded Questions

There are times when native English speakers prefer to use embedded rather than direct questions. Here are two examples.

1. Politely Asking for Information

Direct Question What time does the bus arrive?
Embedded Question Could you tell me what time the bus arrives?
(more polite)

2. Talking About Something Which Is Unknown to the Speaker

Direct Question Why did she decide not to come with us?
Embedded Question I don't know why she decided not to come with us.

Note: The embedded question is in a statement , so it ends with a period, not a question mark.

When you are sure that you understand the lesson, you can continue with the exercises.