Tag Archives: tense consistency

Indirect or reported questions

A student the other day made a series of mistakes in his writing, things like:

  • My father asked me what sport will I like…
  • I wanted to know will you go out with me…

What is happening here is that the grammar of direct questions, the actual words someone would have said, is being mixed in with a report structure.

The father in the first example would have said “What sport will/do you like?” The second example would have been “Will you go out with me?”

But when you report a question, things change. First, word order changes. Second, question words often disappear. Third, word order changes. Fourth, tense changes to suit the time frame of the report.

So our examples would become:

  • My father asked me what sport I would like…
  • I wanted to know if you would go out with me…

Reported questions are more common in rather formal registers, but they do quite frequently occur in narrative, partly for variety, and partly for focussing the narrative viewpoint in a certain way. 

Many of the rules are just the same as in Indirect or Reported Speech.


Indirect questions (British Council)

Questions in reported speech

Reported questions

Quiz on Indirect Questions


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My tenses are all over the place. How can I fix this?

See also English Tenses and Subject-Verb Agreement.

This is a real problem for many students, especially those from language backgrounds where tense is not shown the same way it is in English (and even more so in other European languages, which is one reason that studying Latin, Greek, French or German can help your English by making you more aware of what happens in English.)
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Posted by on December 19, 2006 in English grammar, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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