Grammar-QuizzesClausesSubordinate Clauses › Yes/No-Questions

Subordinate Yes/No-Questions(reported or indirect speech)

Restate a question within a clause

friend asking

Quoted vs. Restated Questions


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.


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?"


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 subordinator (marker) if or whether subordinates the reported speech to the main clause.                  


My friend asked

if I was going with them.

My friend asked

if my brother was going too.

My friends asked

whether I could 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





Steps to Subordinating a Yes-No Question

"Repackage" a question into the object position of a clause



Adjust Person and Number


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.


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.


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.                           



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





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


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.


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.



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 
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)





Adjust Tense (Agreement)

Relate the timing of subordinate clause to main clause



Verb Tense in Reported Questions


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


"Are you working?"


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


" Were you calling?"


" Have you called yet?"


" Have you been calling me?"


"Do you like dancing?"


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.


She asked whether I was/were working.


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


She asked whether I had been calling.


She asked if I had called yet.


She asked if I had been calling her.


*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.





Comment on Question

Express opinion or thought about the question


Subordinate Question-clause


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 me tonight?"

"Is she his girlfriend?"

"Will you be late?"


 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 me 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 Connectors – if vs. whether

Understand differences in usage




In the following situations, speakers favor using if.


I asked them if they were leaving.


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


In the following situations, speakers prefer using whether.


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


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 







Keep Question Word Order

Create an effect on listeners (rhetorical device)



Examples of Keeping the Question Word Order for Impact


More and more, 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?


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


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


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


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


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?


*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] 


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. if and whether are categorized as subordinators.

* not used / ~ used by some speakers but not by others (informal use)

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

oratory (N) – the skill of making public questiones

rhetorical device – creative and effective means of public speaking with the goal of making an impact on listeners. See Rhetorical Device (Wikipedia)

parenthetical (Adj) – 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

Also see Pop-Q – What Phrase.






Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions


Error and Solution


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

*She asked me when we are coming or not.

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


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 whether we are coming or not.

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






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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description



Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions


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. Subordinated 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)



Word Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Word Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: an element or elements required by a word or structure to complete its meaning in the clause (e.g., DO – direct object; IO – indirect object; PP - prep. phrase);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.



  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.





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.



before boarding.

on board?






"Is there a special fare for students?"  



reserved for handicapped people?









Practice 2

Doctor, Doctor!




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.


Tell me if your neck hurts.


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


Let me ask you whether any allergies have you?

Tell me if your nose is running.


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








Practice 3

Rent a Wife or Husband

rent a husband



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






  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.


The interviewer asked Jane is her business doing well now.

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

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

He questioned whether are her employees licensed?

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

The interviewer wondered her staff could host a party here.

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

The interviewer asked are there any requests that surprise you?

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

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