Have you ever wondered how you can politely ask a question in English? Using an indirect question is one great way to do this. Especially since English doesnt have a formal you form like many other languages. So you might wonder, how should you ask your boss for a day off? How should you ask a stranger where the nearest bus stop is?
Asking questions puts you in a position where you are the one who needs information or help. So, its important to do this the appropriate way. And different ways of asking questions can help. Knowing how to ask good questions will help you have great conversations.
Asking Questions in Different Ways
When you ask a direct question, you ask directly, or simply, for exactly what you need.
- Where is the bus stop?
- How much does that book cost?
- Are you working this weekend?
- Can I use your phone?
- What time is it?
- Wheres the bathroom?
- Where are you?
- Are we done?
Direct questions are fine when you are talking to your friends or family. And they are also very much appropriate when paired with the right tone of voice.But how about if you are in a more formal situation? Or if you are asking someone youre not really close or familiar with? What if you are in a cocktail party or a work convention? These are situations when its more polite to use an indirect question.
How to Form Indirect Questions
Indirect questions are questions with extra words and phrases to make your question softer and less demanding. When you use these extra phrases, the rest of your sentence will return to the regular word order of a normal positive sentence. You dont need to switch the subject and the verb like you do when you make a direct question. Try using some of these phrases to create indirect questions:
- Do you know.
- Can/could you tell me *Can is slightly more casual, while could is more polite.
- I was wondering
- Is it possible to
Lets try our direct questions with these extra phrases.
- Where is the bus stop? becomes Do you know where the bus stop is?
Do take note that the verb is returns to its regular place after the subject. You dont say, Can you tell me where is the bus stop? The question above, Do you know where the bus stop is? is grammatically correct composition of the question.
- How much does that book cost? becomes Could you tell me how much that book costs? When we use these extra phrases with a question, we dont need the helping verbs do or does, the same way we do in a direct question. So dont say, Could you tell me how much does that book cost?
- Are you working this weekend? becomes I was wondering if you are working this weekend. The subject and verb return to their normal places in the sentence. Dont say, I was wondering if are you working this weekend?Note that when you start with I was wondering, the question is no longer a question. It becomes a statement and takes a period at the end, not a question mark.
- Can I use your phone? becomes Is it possible for me to use your phone? This sentence changes because you have a different subject now. In the direct question, the subject was I, and now the subject is it, and it is the possibility of using the phone. I becomes the receiver of the action and changes to for me. The sentence becomes more polite when I isnt the subject anymore.
Some More Phrases You Can Use to Ask Indirections Questions
Here are some more examples of phrases that you can add to a direct question so that you can transform it to an indirect question. And in result, sound more polite.
- Is there any chance
- Do you have any idea
- Could you tell me
- May I ask
- I was hoping
- Id like to ask
And here are some of the example indirect questions you can form with them:
- Is there any chance you could show me the list again?
- Do you have any idea about this online news that was posted earlier?
- Hi! Could you show me the way back to my hotel?
- Could you tell me if theres a bakery nearby?
- I was hoping to ask you, what happened yesterday at the bar?
- Id like to ask you, which team are you rooting for?
Indirect Questions are Polite
Do you see how these extra phrases are more polite? They quietly ask for the listeners attention before you ask your question. Your listener feels more respected when you soften your question like this. Indirect questions tell the other person that youre thankful for their help!
Other Ways to Ask Indirect Questions
A good word to use in an indirect question is if. Instead of asking, Where is the bathroom? you could say, Do you know if there is a bathroom here? People can answer these if questions with a simple yes or no very easy! Here are some examples with the word if:
- I was wondering if Dan is coming with us tonight?
- Do you know if that store sells shampoo?
- Can you tell me if you see the mailman drive by?
- Do you have any idea if shes coming in today?
- I was wondering if youre passing by the grocery tonight?
- I was hoping to know if youll be driving to the wedding this weekend?
You can also use your polite phrase followed by a question word who, what, where, when, why or how. Here are some examples:
- Do you know when the store opens?
- Can you tell me how to lock this door?
- I was wondering why you didnt wait for me.
- Do you know who ate all the cake?
- Do you know where the bathroom is?
- Could you show me how to operate this machine?
- May I know why you were not able to send that email out in time?
And dont forget, you can also add excuse me to be even more polite. Now you can go see your boss and say Excuse me, I was wondering if I could ask you about taking a day off. I hope the answer will be, Yes!
You see, making polite, indirect sentences in English is easy!
If you need to use indirect questions in formal emails, and you can! Just check out that lesson, its a great way to learn written English too.
Remember, practice makes perfect. So dont forget to apply what you have just learned in your daily conversations at work or in your personal interactions. You can apply these learnings in work and personal emails too. Have fun and until our next lesson!
How to Answer the Question How Are You?