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Reported or indirect questions in English

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 Expressing indirect questions in English 

While expressing reported statements in English is relatively easy to master, putting direct questions into reported speech can often cause problems for the learner.

The simplest way to master the rules or structures is to start with a few varied direct questions, and use them as models. We will use the following Models:
 ►  M1. Where is my jacket ?  (question using to be)
 ►  M2. What is making that noise ? ( Wh word as subject, )
 ►  M3  Does she  like chocolate? (no question word present)
 ►  M4. What are you doing ? (Wh word as object).
 ►  M5. Where do you live ? (Wh word as adverb)

Preliminary points:

  • a) The main thing to remember is that in reported interrogatives, there is  no inversion of  subject and verb.
  • b) Reported speech can be introduced by a lot of different verbs, but most commonly by expressions such as "He asked...... , I wonder....." etc. 
  • When there is no question word (as in model M3), indirect questions are introduced by if or whether.

Reporting the present: simultaneous reporting.

This is not complicated. The verb tense in the reported question is the same as in the original question.

 ►  M1. "Where is my jacket ?"  ► He's asking where his jacket is.
 ►  M2. "What is making that noise ?" ► I wonder what's making that noise 
 ►  M3. "Does she like chocolate ?" ► I wonder if  (whether) she likes chocolate.
 ►  M4. "What are you doing ?"  ► He's asking what you're doing.
       
M4. "What is he saying ?"  ► I wonder what he's saying.
 ► 
M5. "Where does he come from ?"  ► I wonder where he comes from.

Reporting the past: deferred reporting.

This is a little more complicated, but not impossible to master. It is the more common form of reporting.  The verb in the reported question usually changes.

Reporting the present  from the past.
If the reported question refers to a past situation, the verb in the reported question clause should go in the past.
But if the reported question refers to a permanent or ongoing situation (M11, M21, etc) , it can remain in the present.

 ►  M1." Where is my jacket ?"  ► He asked where his jacket was.
          M11 "Where is London ?"  ► He asked where London is
 ►  M2. "What is making that noise ?" ► I wondered what was making the noise.
         
M21 "Who lives in this house ?"  ► I wondered who lives in this house.
   M3. "Do you want a chocolate?" ► They asked (me) If I wanted a chocolate .
         
 M31 "Do you speak English ?"  ► He asked (me) if I speak English.
 ►  M4. "What are you doing ?"  ► He asked what you were doing.
          M41 "What are you doing ?"  ► He asked what you're doing .
 ►  M3. "What is he saying?"  ► I asked what he was saying..
 ►  M5. "Where does he come from ?"  ► I asked him where he came from.

In the examples above, the jacket (M1) has moved since the question was asked, but London  (M11) has not moved !  We can suppose that the noise (M2) has stopped, but that the person still lives (M21)  in the house,  and so on.
As for example
M31, people often put the verb into the past tense in this type of reported question, though strictly this is not necessary, nor really really correct.  "He asked me if I spoke English" suggests that speaking English is something you can do one day, but not the next..

Reporting the future  from the past.
When a direct question using a future verb form is reported, the future form of the question clause becomes a conditional, or a future-in-the-past if what was the future is now the past.
     will > would   –  are going to > were going to  –  can  >  could,  etc.
If the original future is still in the future
(M11, M31, etc), then the reported question remains in the future.
 
►  M1. "Where will you be tomorrow?"  ► He asked where I would be the following day.
        M11 "Where will I be in 2030 ?"  ► I wondered where I'll be in 2030.
►  M2. "What will come next ?" ► He asked what would come next .
► 
M3. "Will you take me home?" ► I asked if he'd take me home .
       
M31" Will he still be there in 2020 ?"  ► I wondered if he'll still be there in 2020.
►  M4." What are you going to do ?"  ► He asked what I was going to do..
       M41 "Who's she going to marry ?"  ► They asked who she's going to marry .
►  M5. "How will you survive?"  ► He asked me how I'd survive .

Footnote:
Absolute and relative adverbs of time or place.

English (like many other languages) has a series of adverbs of time and place which are absolute concepts, and strictly related to present time (the moment) or place.  Now,  today,  yesterday,  tomorrow,  in five minutes' time (etc), here.
In indirect questions or statements, the moment is not normally the same as it was when the question or statement was originally made. Therefore it is often necessary to change the adverb of time and use one that  expresses a relative concept of time.  Here are the most common pairs:
  • Today          that day
  • Tomorrow   the next day, the following day
  • Yesterday    the day before, the previous day
  • Now            then, at that moment,
  • In five minutes' (etc)  time    five minutes (etc.) later
  • Here            there
Example:
     "Can you be here tomorrow?"  would be reported as:
     He asked if I could be there the following day.



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