Yes/No-Question Clauses

Restate quoted questions (reported speech)

Man asking questions

 

Quoted vs. Restated Questions

QUOTED  QUESTION

A quoted yes-no question begins with a main clause that includes the speaker and the verb say or ask, followed by a comma and the exact words of the quote, enclosed in quotation marks. The quoted speech may also be placed before the main clause: "Are you OK?," my friend asked. 

MAIN CLAUSE YES-NO QUESTION

My friend says,

"Are you coming with us?"

My friend asked,

"Is your brother coming too?"

My friend asked,

"Can you drive us?'

My friend asked,

"Will you have enough gas?"

My friend asked,

"Do we have enough money for gas?"

REPORTED QUESTION

A reported yes-no question also begins with the main clause, but is followed by the content of the quote as it relates to the speaker in time, person, place, and direction, at the moment of speaking.  A subordinating marker if or whether links the reported speech to the main clause.

MAIN CLAUSE REPORTED SPEECH

My friend asked

if I was going with them.

My friend asked

if my brother was going too.

My friends ask

whether I can drive them.

My friend asked

if I would have enough gas.

My friend wanted to know

whether we had enough money for gas.

 

A yes-no question differs from a Wh-question. In a yes-no question, the quoted question begins with an auxiliary verb form such as is, are, am, do, does, has, have, can, will, must. The expected answer is either yes or no (+ or -).
In reported speech, no additional punctuation (quotation marks, comma, or question mark) is used. Related page Quotation Marks.

Related page  If vs. Whether 

 

 

Ask Synonyms

Also see Said Synonyms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subordinate Question-Clauses

Adjust Perspective

 

 

 

Word Order / Person & Number

WORD ORDER  ADJUSTMENT

The subordinate clause changes from question to statement word order: (1) the word order changes from  [Aux-Subj-Verb] to [S- Aux+Verb]. That is, the subject is placed before the verb in the subordinate clause.

MAIN CLAUSE SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

Remove punctuation.

My friend always asks,

 

 "Are they ready?" 

(1) subord. marker¹

 

if are they ready.

(2) word order [S-V]

      move the subject forward
if they are ready

(3) person & number

 

(4) tense

 

(5) time / place

 

 

My friend always asks

 

if they are ready.

PERSON & NUMBER ADJUSTMENT

The subordinate clause also adjusts in person and number: (2) personal pronouns (i.e., I→you, me→you, we→you, etc.) and verb agreement (e.g., I am→you are) adjust  to the  perspective of the speaker.                           

MAIN CLAUSE SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

 

My friend always asks,

 

"Are you ready?"  

(1) subord. marker¹

 

if are you ready

(2) word order [S-V]

    move the subject forward
if you are ready

(3) person & number

   change this to
if I am ready 

(4) tense

 

(5) time / place

 

 

My friend always asks

 

if I am ready.

 

perspective (N) — point of view; how someone relates to surroundings: person (you, i we); place (here, there); time (now, then); direction (coming, going) See deixis.
¹subordinate marker – whether or if

 

 

 

Time / Location

TIME ADJUSTMENT

The subordinate clause adjusts in time: (3) adverbs and prepositional phrases adjust if the verb in the main clause is an earlier time. 

MAIN CLAUSE SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

Remove punctuation.

My friend asked,

 

 "Are they leaving tomorrow?"      

(1) subord. marker¹

 

if are they leaving tomorrow.

(2) word order [S-V]

      arrow-most of the changes to most of which
if they are leaving tomorrow               

(3) person & number

 

(4) tense / verb form

       change this to
they were leaving tomorrow

(5) time / place

                               change this to
they were leaving
the next day.

 

My friend asked

 

if they were leaving the next day.

LOCATION ADJUSTMENT

The subordinate clause adjusts in location and direction: (4) adverbs and prepositional phrases for location are changed to reflect something that is near or far from the speaker.

MAIN CLAUSE SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

 

My friend asked,   

 

"Are they coming here?

(1) subord. marker¹

 

if are they coming here

(2) word order [S-V]

      arrow-most of the changes to most of which 
they
are coming here

(3) person & number

 

(4) tense

       change this to
they were coming here

(5) time / place

                  change this to
they were
going² there

 

My friend asked

 

if they were going there.

 

¹subordinate markers – whether or if
²direction: change coming to going if both speaker and listener do not share a location 

See  Adjusting Perspective  (Deixis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subordinate Question-Clauses

Verb Tense Agreement

 

 

 

Verb Tense in Reported Questions

QUESTION  VERB TENSE
PRESENT

"Are you tired? "
"Do you live here?'
"May I come too? "
"Can I help?" "
"Will you leave soon? "
"Must you do that? "

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

"Are you working?"

PAST

" Were you married?"
" Did you get married?"

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

" Were you calling?"

PRESENT PERFECT

" Have you called yet?"

PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE

" Have you been calling me?"

PRESENT – GENERAL TRUTH

"Do you like dancing?"

REPORTED QUESTION
PAST

She asked whether I was/were tired.
She inquired if I lived there.
She asked whether she might come too.
She asked if she could help.
She inquired whether we would leave soon.
She questioned if I had to do that exactly then.

PAST PROGRESSIVE

She asked whether I was/were working.
 

PAST PERFECT

She asked whether I had been married.
She asked if I had gotten married.  

PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE

She asked whether I had been calling.
 

PAST PERFECT

She asked if I had called yet.
 

PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE

She asked if I had been calling her.
 

PRESENT – GENERAL TRUTH

*She asked whether I like dancing.
 

 

*must changes to need to or had to in past tense
* If the tense reflects "general truth", it does not change to past form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subordinate Questions

Add a personal comment

 

 

 

Embedded Question-clause

QUOTED WH-QUESTION

A question with a modal or auxiliary verb can be placed within a comment stating opinion.  If or whether links the subordinate clause to the main clause.

"Did he go?"

"Were you there?"

"Should we turn here?"

"Is it time to go?"

"Can you meet tonight?"

"Is she his girlfriend?"

"Will you be late?"

COMMENT WITH WH-QUESTION

 The opinion or comment is placed first followed by the subordinated question clause which is adjusted to the perspective of the main clause.

I don't know if he went(go → went)
¹Whether he went or not is a mystery to me.

I can't remember if I was here(there → here.)
Whether I was here is something I can't remember.

I have no idea if we should turn here.
Whether we should turn is something I don't know.

Can you tell me if it is time to go?
Whether we should go is unclear to me.

He couldn't tell me if he could meet that night(tonight → that night.)
Whether he could meet me was something he couldn't tell me.

Do you happen to know if she is his girlfriend?  (there → here)
Whether she is his girlfriend is a question I can't answer.

She couldn't answer if she would be late
Whether she would be late was something she couldn't answer.  

 

¹Use whether  not if in a stressed sentence position.
Related page That/What Clauses  | Adjusting perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subordinate Clauses

Use if vs. whether

 

 

IF

In the following situations, speakers favor using if.

REPORTED SPEECH

I asked them if they were leaving.

SLIGHTLY LESS FORMAL

I asked him if he is going to visit. (informal context)
I asked him whether he would visit. (more formal)

WHETHER

In the following situations, speakers prefer using whether.

WORDS USED IN FORMAL CONTEXTS

We inquired whether the President would attend the summit meeting.  (investigate, explain, examine, study, decide, determine)

AFTER A PREPOSITION

They asked about whether the President would attend the meeting. (look into)

 

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet's Soliloquy" To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune…

Related page  If vs. Whether 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subordinate Question-Clause

With Question Word Order (Aux-S-V)

 

 

 

Is this language change or an error?

QUESTION WITHIN A  COMMENT

More than ever, we are hearing an embedded question with [Aux+Subj+Verb] word order rather than [Subj+Aux-Verb] word order. This usage is creeping into formal situations such as political speeches and news reports. Is it an error or intentional?

ORATORICAL DEVICE?

Let's think carefully about (if) ARE we going to deny them equal rights.  (emphasis)  [Aux-S-V] 

PARENTHETICAL SPEECH?

Let's think carefully, are we going to deny them equal rights? 
Are we going to deny them, let's think carefully, equal rights?

THOUGHT SHIFT?

Let's think carefully…   Are we going to deny them equal rights." (Mental shift and restart?)

PREFERRED USE

Let's think carefully about whether we are going to deny them equal rights.   [S-Aux-V]

QUESTION WITHIN A QUESTION

An embedded question with [Aux+Subj+Verb] word order doesn't seem to occur as much within a question as it does within a comment, or a wh-question.   This usage occurs mostly in speech. Why do you suppose the speaker is shifting from direct to reported speech?

EMPHASIS?

*Is there any doubt whether are we going to give them equal rights?  [Aux-S-V] 

~Is there any doubt— are we going to give them equal rights? [Aux-S-V] 

~The key thing is will they settle the border issue?  (intonation rising ↑) [Aux-S-V] 

PREFERRED USE

Is there any doubt whether we are going to give them equal rights?   [S-Aux-V]

Is there any doubt that we are going to give them equal rights?   [S-Aux-V] 

 

Note whether or if is omitted.

* not used  / ~ possibly used, questionable usage

deny (V) — withhold, not give; say something is not true

oratory – the skill of making public speeches

oratorical device (expression) — a method used in speaking to make a stronger impact on the audience

parenthetical – a comment which interrupts thought and which is set off with comma(s) [informal use]  See Comma-comments.

shift (N) — put something aside and replace it with something else

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

ERROR SOLUTION

*Can you tell me is it a boy or a girl?

Can you tell me if it is a boy or a girl?
Can you tell me whether it is a boy or a girl?

*She asked me when we are coming or not.

She asked me whether we are coming or not.

They asked if we wanted to have dinner with them sometime.  (Using if implies possibly never)

They asked when we wanted to have dinner with them sometime. (Using when means sometime in the future.)

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Description

TRADITIONAL & ESL DESCRIPTION LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

Direct and Indirect Speech (Swan 274) "Words that are spoken or thought in one place by one person may be reported in another place at a different time, and perhaps by another person. Because of this, there are often grammatical differences between direct and indirect speech : word order, pronouns, 'here and now' words', tense, question marks (Swan 276)

Whether and If. (Swan 621)

Both introduce indirect questions

  • After particular that are more common in formal style: We discussed whether…
  • In formal style, whether is used in two-part questions with or: We haven't decided whether we will join states or stay separate.
  • Fronted clauses: Whether we'll join, we don't know yet.
  • After prepositions: We talked about whether/*if we should redesign our logo.
  • Before infinitives: We can't decide whether/*if to redesign our logo.
  • "The question is": The question is whether we need to.

 

if, whether
— conjunction (Swan 276.3)   if vs. whether (621)
— subordinating conjunction (Azar 365)

Direct reported speech gives the actual wording of the original.
Indirect reported speech gives only its content.  (Huddleston 11 §9)

The major difference between direct and indirect speech is deixis.  The deictic expressions are interpreted in relation to the original utterance, whereas in indirect speech they are interpreted wholly or predominantly in relation to the act of reporting.  (Huddleston 1025)

deictic – specifying identity or spatial or temporal location from the perspective of one or more of the participants in an act of speech or writing, in the context of either an external situation or the surrounding discourse, as we, you, here, there, now, then, this, that, the former, or the latter.

Interrogative content clauses. Embedded Questions: The main structural difference between subordinate and main clause interrogatives is that subject-auxiliary inversion does not generally apply to the subordinate structure. (Huddleston 11 §5.1)

Construction where only whether is permitted. (Huddleston 11 §5.2)

  • We are leaving whether /*if you like it or not. (exhaustive conditional construction [it doesn't matter that…])
  • We can't decide whether /*if  to leave. (infinitive clause)
  • I don't know whether /*if or not we are going. [or not + clause]
    I don't know whether / if we are going or not. [ clause + or not]
  • The problem is whether/*if we have a car. [The question is…]
  • Some verbs favor whether: (explain, investigate, ponder, study) We will investigate whether the Mayor was involved in this matter.

Construction where if is favored:

  • Reports of indirect questions: I asked them if they had seen my dog.
  • Style: if is slightly more informal than whether: We asked him if he was going to be a little late.

if, whether – marker of subordination in interrogative clauses (Huddleston 956)

 

Categories "Parts of Speech": N – noun; NP – noun phrase; V – verb; VP – verb phrase; Adj – adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; Adv – adverb; AdvP – adverb phrase; P – preposition; PP – prepositional phrase; Det – determinative; Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator; Interj – interjection

Functions: Subject – Subj; Predicate/Predicator – Pred; Complement – an element that is required by the subject or verb to complete the meaning of the sentence (e.g., object, indirect object, predicative complement); Adjunct – an element not required by the verb, an optional element such as a modifier, a subordinate clause, or a supplemental clause; Supplements – clauses or phrases tacked on but not closely related the central idea of the sentence

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Planning a Day Trip

Cal Train
 

 

Change the quoted question to a reported question.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-15" button.

 

1.

2.
before boarding.

3.
on board?

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.
"Is there a special fare for students?"  

10.

11.

12.
reserved for handicapped people?

13.

14.

15.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Doctor, Doctor!

Headache
 

 

Context

DOCTOR:  Does your neck hurt?
PATIENT:  No, my head hurts.

DOCTOR:  Does it hurt more in front or in back?
PATIENT:  No, it hurts in front, around my eyes.

DOCTOR:  Do you have any allergies?
PATIENT:  I have hay fever.

DOCTOR:  Is your nose running? (discharge)
PATIENT:  No, but I have a sore throat.

DOCTOR:  Did you get a flu shot this year?
PATIENT:  No, I don't usually get the flu.

DOCTOR:  Well, it looks like you've got it now. Why don't you go home and rest, drink plenty of fluids and stay away from others for a couple days.
PATIENT: OK. Thank you.

allergy (N) — a condition in which someone reacts to something such as dust, food, mold, pollen, or cat hair.  The reaction may be itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin

hay fever (expression) — being allergic to the pollen of common plants and grasses;

fluids (N) — water, liquids

rash, and so on.

runny nose – fluids drip from the nose

 

 

 

Correct or Incorrect?

  1. Select a response correct or incorrect.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 16-20" button.

 

16.
Tell me if your neck hurts.

     

17.
Can you tell me whether does it hurt more in front or in back of your head?

     

18.
Let me ask you whether any allergies have you?
     

19.
Tell me if your nose is running.

     

20.
Can you tell me whether did you get a flu shot this year?

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Rent a Wife or Husband

rent a husband
 

 

Context

INTERVIEWER:  Jane, you started your company one year ago. Is it doing well now?
JANE OLSON:  Oh yes! It's really taken off.  We were surprised to find out how many working couples were desperate for help with household chores.

INTERVIEWER: You named your business "Rent a Wife or Husband". Are the services you offer different from a house cleaner or handyman?
JANE OLSON:  Yes, we hire people who are capable of doing a wide range of chores around the house.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of services do you offer? For example, do you offer childcare, dog walking, food shopping, or tutoring?
JANE OLSON:  Yes, we do exactly these kinds of chores.

INTERVIEWER: Are your employees licensed?
JANE OLSON: Licensed? They all have driver's licenses. A couple have contractor licenses. Another has a design license. Another has extensive computer skills. Our employees offer a variety of skills from different professional backgrounds and fields. 

INTERVIEWER: Are your employees mostly young people?
JANE OLSON: A large number of our employees are retired. They are people who enjoy using their skills, interacting with young families, and bringing home some extra money.

INTERVIEWER: Let's say, for example, I wanted to have a party here, could your people host it? 

JANE OLSON: Well yes, we could, but you would still be the host. Our people could do the food shopping, decorating, cooking, and serving of the food.

INTERVIEWER: What about healthcare? Can your service send a stand-in mommy for a sick child.
JANE OLSON: No.  That is something we cannot do.  If a child has a cold we can help, but a child with a fever or an elderly parent with healthcare problems requires a healthcare professional.

INTERVIEWER: Are there any requests that surprise you?
JANE OLSON: Yes. Some people want us to decorate their Christmas trees and hang house lights. Though it is traditionally done by the family, we can send a couple elves to decorate for the holidays.

INTERVIEWER: So in a way, are you offering the kinds of things that a grandmother or grandfather used to do for younger family members.
JANE OLSON: Yes. We are the absent aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers.

INTERVIEWER: Are you planning on expanding your business to other cities next year.
JANE OLSON: Not right now. Currently, we are expanding our resources here by reaching out to the retired community and to the young working couples in need.

chore (N) — work; task; daily jobs usually around home

contractor (N) — home builder

decorate (V) — adorn, change the appearance of a room, especially for the holidays  or a special occasion (e.g., paint, change fabric, add pictures or ornaments)

desperate (Adj) — very much in need

diverse (Adj) — different

elf / elves (N) — helpers to Santa Claus

extenstive (Adj) wide, broad, reaching over a wide area; comprehensive (a lot)

household (N) — matters of the house; related to the home

licensed (Adj)  – having proper training or certification for a specific skill

rent (V)  – allow someone to use something (car, bicycle, condo, etc. ) for a short time in return for payment  (very unusual with "wife" or "husband".)

staff (N) — employees, workers within a company

stand-in – temporary, substitute

take off (V) — fly, rise, succeed

wide range (expression) — a variety

 

 

 

 

Editing

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 21-30" button.

 

21.
The interviewer asked Jane is her business doing well now.


22.
He wanted to know if the services you are offering were different from a house cleaner or handyman.


23.
He inquired if they offer childcare, dog walking, food shopping, or tutoring.


24.
He questioned whether are her employees licensed?


25.
The interviewer asked about if her employees are mostly young people?


26.
The interviewer wondered her staff could host a party here.


27.
He questioned if they can to provide healthcare for sick children or elders.


28.
The interviewer asked are there any requests that surprise you?


29.
He asked her if her employees are doing the kinds of things that grandparents used to do for younger family members.


30.
He asked if was Jane planning on expanding your business to other cities next year.