Subordinate Clauses of Indirect Questions

Subordinate Clauses of Indirect Questions :

A question expressed in the form actually used in asking it is called a direct question.

1. What is your name?

2. “What is your name?" he asked.

The direct form may be retained when the question is quoted or reported as in the second example above. Often, however, a question is quoted or reported, not in the direct form, but in the form of a subordinate clause such as….

1. He asked what my name was.

2. Such a clause is called an indirect question.

An indirect question expresses the substance of a direct question in the form of a subordinate clause.

Indirect questions depend on verbs or other expressions of asking, doubting, thinking, perceiving and the like.

1. Franklin asked where the difficulty lay. [Direct question: “Where does the difficulty lie?"]

2. The sergeant wondered how he should escape. [Direct question: “How shall I escape?"]

3. I have not decided which train I shall take. [Direct question: “Which train shall I take?"]

Both direct and indirect questions may be introduced

(1) by the interrogative pronouns who, which, what

(2) by the interrogative adverbs when, where, whence, whither, how, why.

Indirect questions may be introduced by the subordinate conjunctions whether (whether ... or) and if.

The use of tenses in indirect questions is the same as in the indirect discourse.

1. The constable inquired whether (or if) I lived in Casterbridge. [His question was : Do you live in Casterbridge?]

2. Your father wishes to know if you have been playing truant. [Direct question : Have you been playing truant?]

3. I considered whether I should apply to Kent or to Arnold. [Direct question : Shall I apply to Kent or to Arnold?]

Indirect questions are usually noun clauses. They may be used in various noun constructions….

(1) as object of some verb of asking or the like

(2) as subject

(3) as predicate nominative

(4) as appositive

(5) as object of a preposition

1. The skipper asked what had become of the cook. [Object.]

2. He was asked what his profession was. [Retained object after the passive.]

3. How we could escape was a difficult question. [Subject.]

4. The problem was how they should find food. [Predicate nominative.]

5. The question who was to blame has never been settled. [Apposition with question.]

6. They all felt great perplexity as to what they should do. [Object of a preposition.]

An indirect question may be an adverbial clause.

1. They were uncertain what course they should take. [The clause modifies uncertain.]

2. Edmund was in doubt where he should spend the night. [The clause modifies the adjective phrase in doubt.]

Since the pronouns who, which, and what may be either interrogative or relative, an indirect question may closely resemble a relative clause. These two constructions, however, are sharply distinguished. A relative clause always asserts something. An indirect question, on the contrary, has an interrogative sense which may be seen by turning the question into the direct form.

The sailor who saved the child is a Portuguese. [The clause who saved the child is a relative clause, for it makes a distinct assertion about the sailor,—namely, that he saved the child. Who is a relative pronoun and sailor is its antecedent.]

{I asked | I do not know | It is still a question | It is doubtful} who saved the child. [Here the clause who saved the child makes no assertion. On the contrary, it expresses a question which may easily be put in a direct form with an interrogation point: “Who saved the child?" Who is an interrogative pronoun. It has no antecedent.]

The following examples further illustrate the difference between these two constructions.

I foresee the course which he will take. [Relative clause.]

I foresee which course he will take. [Indirect question.]

I heard what he said. [Relative clause. What = “that which."]

I wondered what he said. [Indirect question. What is an interrogative pronoun.]

This is the man who brought the news. [Relative clause.]

The king asked who brought the news. [Indirect question.]

Here is a paper which you must sign. [Relative clause.]

The clerk will tell you which paper you must sign. [Indirect question.]

Note : In such a sentence as “Tom knows who saved the child," the indirect question may at first appear to be a relative clause with an omitted antecedent (the man, or the person). If, however, we insert such an antecedent (“Tom knows the man who saved the child"), the meaning is completely changed. In the original sentence, it is stated that Tom knows the answer to the question, “Who saved the child?" In the new form of the sentence, it is stated that Tom is acquainted with a certain person, and to this is added an assertion about this person in the form of a relative clause.

An indirect question is sometimes expressed by means of an interrogative pronoun or adverb followed by an infinitive.

1. Whom to choose is a serious question. [Direct question: Whom shall we choose?]

2. John asked what to do. [John’s question was: What shall I do?]

3. I know where to go. [Direct question: Where shall I go?]

4. Tell me when to strike the bell.

5. I was at a loss how to reply.

6. I am in doubt how to begin this essay.

In the first four examples the italicized phrase is used as a noun (either as subject or object). In the fifth, the phrase how to reply is adverbial, modifying the adjective phrase at a loss.

The subjunctive was formerly common in indirect questions, and is still occasionally used after if or whether.

1. I doubt if it be true.

2. Elton questioned whether the project were wise.

The rule for shall (should) and will (would) in indirect questions is, to retain the auxiliary used in the direct question, merely changing the tense (shall to should and will to would) when necessary.

Mere Futurity

Direct :

1. What shall I do?

Indirect :

1. I wonder what I shall do.

2. You ask me what you shall do.

3. He asks me what he shall do.

4. I wondered what I should do.

5. You asked me what you should do.

6. He asked me what he should do.

Direct :

1. Shall you lose your position?

Indirect :

1. {I ask | He asks} you if you shall lose your position.

2. {I asked | He asked} you if you should lose your position.

Direct :

1. Will Charles lose his position?

Indirect :

1. I ask if Charles will lose his position.

2. {I | You | Tom} asked if Charles would lose his position.


Direct :

1. Will you help me?

Indirect :

1. You ask if I will help you.

2. He asks if I will help him.

3. You asked if I would help you.

4. He asked if I would help him.

5. {I asked him | You asked him | Tom asked him} if he would {help me. | help you. | help him.}

Note : There is a single exception to the rule. When, in changing from a direct to an indirect question, the third person with will or would becomes the first, shall or should is substituted unless volition is expressed. Thus, John says to Thomas, “Will Charles die of his wound?" Charles, reporting John’s question, says, “John asked Thomas whether I should die of my wound."

Subordinate Clauses of Indirect Questions :

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