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 question which is within another question or statement.The embedded questions usually begin with inductory 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 statement

As A Part Of Another Question

Sometimes embedded questions can be used within another question. (This is also called an indirect question) we use it to sound more polite.

normal question: What time is it?

indirect question (with an embedded question): Could you please tell me what time is it?

As A Part Of Statement

Embedded questions are not always a part of a question, sometimes they are a part of a statement too. Since the embedded question is a noun clause it can be treated just like a noun. It can be an 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 does he live.

Here "where does he live” 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

In a statement instead of a question mark for the end, we use a period. Also if our question's tense is past/present simple, we should take out (do/did/does) and then change the verb accordingly. Let's see some examples:

What time did you eat?

Embedded question: I wonder what time you ate.

When did you buy that dress?

Embedded question: Who knows when you bought that dress.

Using embedded question to express more information

Rule #2

We should invert the place of the subject and auxiliary verb, if the embedded question has an auxiliary verb or the verb "to be". Look at the followings:

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 the sentence if there is 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 word 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 infinitive 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.

Why Do We Use The Embedded Questions?

Here you can see some functions of embedded questions:

  • To be Polite
  • To express more information
  • To change direct speech to indirect speech

To Be Polite

As we 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 to 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 these 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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