Embedded Questions

A question within another question?! I wonder how's that ! let's see what are embedded questions to learn more about them.

Embedded Questions in English Grammar

What Is an Embedded Question?

An embedded question is a type of sentence in which a question is included as part of a larger statement or question. It is also known as an indirect question.

Embedded question: Structure

The embedded questions usually begin with introductory phrases such as:

  • Do you know...
  • I wonder...
  • The question is...
  • Would you mind...
  • Could you tell me...
  • I'd like to know...
  • Let's ask...
  • I'm not sure...
  • Who knows...

Where Can We Use Embedded Questions?

There are two ways we can use embedded questions:

  • as a part of another question
  • as a part of a statement

As a Part Of Another Question

Sometimes embedded questions can be used within another question. This is also called an indirect question and is used to sound more polite. For example:

normal question: What time is it?

indirect question: Do you know what time it is?

As a Part Of a Statement

Embedded questions are not always a part of another question. Sometimes, they are a part of a statement. Since the embedded question is a noun clause it can be treated like a noun. It can serve as the object or the subject of the main clasue. For example:

Normal question: Where does he live?

Embedded question in a statement: I don't know where he lives.

Here, 'where he lives' is the object.

Embedded question in a statement: Where he lives is very dangerous.

Here 'where he lives' is the subject.

Some Rules For Embedded Questions

Rule #1

When using embedded questions in a statement, we end the sentence with a period instead of a question mark. Additionally, if we are making a question in the past or present simple tense, we should remove the auxiliary verbs do/did/does and adjust the verb accordingly. Let's see some examples:

What time did you eat?

Embedded question: I wonder what time you ate.

The auxiliary verb is removed and the past tense is reflected in the main verb.

When did you buy that dress?

Embedded question: Who knows when you bought that dress.

Using embedded question to express more information

Rule #2

If the embedded question has an auxiliary verb or the verb 'to be', the subject and auxiliary verb are inverted. Look at the followings examples:

Why did he cry?

Embedded question: Would you tell me why he cried?

When did she leave?

Embedded question: Could you please tell me when she left?

Rule #3

Never use verbal contractions at the end of sentences that contain an embedded question. Look at the examples:

I wonder where she is? (Not I wonder where she's.)

Who knows what it is. (Not who knows what it's.)

Rule #4

If there are not any question words in the sentence, we can introduce the embedded questions using whether, if, and whether or not. For instance:

Direct question: Will she come to the wedding?

Embedded questions: Do you know whether she is coming to the wedding or not?

Do you know whether she is coming to the wedding?

Do you know if she is coming to the wedding?

Rule #5

The infinitives can follow a question word or 'whether' in embedded questions. As you can see in the following examples:

Normal question: What should I eat?

Embedded question: I wonder what I should eat.

Embedded question with to-infinitive: I wonder what to eat.

Normal question: What can I say?

Embedded question: I'm not sure what I can say.

Embedded question with to-infinitive : I'm not sure what to say.

Embedded Questions: Uses

Embedded questions can be used to:

  • Be Polite
  • Express more information
  • Change direct speech to indirect speech

To Be Polite

As mentioned earlier, we can use embedded questions to sound more polite, for example:

Normal question: Do you have a watch?

Embedded question: Could you please tell me if you have a watch?

To Express More Information

Sometimes we use embedded questions to express more information, for example:

I wonder if they arrived safely.

Here, it expresses curiosity.

I don't know whether she liked me or not.

Here, it shows lack of knowledge.

I'd like to know when we arrive at the airport.

Here, it's showing desire to know something.

To Change Direct Speech To Indirect Speech

We can use embedded questions to change direct speech to indirect speech, as you can see in the following examples:

Direct: What do you want to eat?

Indirect: They asked me what I wanted to eat.

Direct: when do you leave?

indirect: He asked me when I leave.

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