Direct and Indirect qustions

Direct questions are the “normal” questions that we can ask to friends, family members, and people who we know well.

Example of a direct question: “Where’s the bathroom?”

Indirect questions are a little more formal and polite. We use them when talking to a person we don’t know very well, or in professional situations, and their form is a little different.

Example of an indirect question:
“Could you tell me where the bathroom is?

Phrases for Indirect Questions Could you tell me… Do you know… I was wondering… Do you have any idea… I’d like to know… Would it be possible… Is there any chance…

Direct and Indirect Questions in English: Examples

Direct: Where is Market Street?

Indirect: Could you tell me where Market Street is?

In indirect questions with is/are, the verb (is) comes after the subject (Market Street).


Direct What time does the bank open?

Indirect: Do you know what time the bank opens?

In indirect questions, we don’t use the auxiliary verbs do/does/did. Also, you can see that the verb is “open” in the direct question, and “opens” in the indirect question.


Direct: Why did you move to Europe?

Indirect: I was wondering why you moved to Europe.

Again, there is no auxiliary verb did in the indirect question. In fact, this indirect question isn’t even a question – it’s more of a statement that invites the other person to give more information.

Direct: How has he managed to get in shape so quickly?

Indirect: Do you have any idea how he’s managed to get in shape so quickly?

The auxiliary verbs have and has can be used in both the direct and indirect questions – but in the direct question, “has” comes before the subject (he), and in the indirect question, “has” comes after the subject.


Direct: How much does this motorcycle cost?

Indirect: I’d like to know how much this motorcycle costs.

To form the indirect question, remove does and change “cost” to “costs.”

Direct: Can you finish the project by tomorrow?

Indirect: Would it be possible for you to finish the project by tomorrow?

For direct questions with can, we can use the phrase “would it be possible…” to make it indirect.

Direct: Can we change the meeting to Thursday?

Indirect: Is there any chance we could change the meeting to Thursday?

“Is there any chance…” is another option for forming indirect questions with can.

Yes/No Direct Questions –> “If” in Indirect Questions

If the direct question is a “yes or no” question (it has no question word such as what, who, when, where, why, or how), then the indirect question will have if.

Direct: Does Tom like Italian food?
Indirect: Do you know if Tom likes Italian food?

Direct: Are your parents joining us for dinner?
Indirect: Could you tell me if your parents are joining us for dinner?

Direct: Do they speak English?
Indirect: I was wondering if they speak English.

Direct: Has Barbara ever studied abroad?
Indirect: Do you have any idea if Barbara’s ever studied abroad?

Direct: Do you plan on traveling this summer?
Indirect: I’d like to know if you plan on traveling this summer.

Modals of Deduction( Past)

We can use modal verbs to talk about how sure or unsure we are about something in the past just as we use modals in the present with a slight change in the form.
He must be really happy about his promotion. (present deduction)
He must have been very happy when he was told about his promotion. (past deduction)

When we use a modal verb to talk about a situation where we are not expressing a fact but we are using deduction the form is MODAL + have + past participle (verb 3)

Must have + past participle
We use ‘must have + past participle’ when we are quite sure about something.
You must have been very pleased when you received the results of your exams.
He must have forgotten his phone at home again. He’s not answering.
I must have left my keys in the car. I can’t find them.

Might have/may have/could have + past participle
We use ‘might have/may have/could have + past participle’ when we are not sure about something but we think it was possible.
He was supposed to be here an hour ago but he could have been stuck in a traffic jam.
He may have said he was coming but I can’t really remember. I wasn’t listening.
I might have been here when I was a child but I can’t really remember.

Can’t have + past participle
We use ‘can’t have + past participle’ for things that we are sure did not happen in the past.
I can’t have left my phone at work. You phoned me when I was walking to my car. That’s it. It must be in the car.
You can’t have seen him this morning. He was with me all the time.
She can’t have liked the show. She hates musicals.

Now put the correct modal in these sentences.

  • 1 – She ___ misunderstood my directions. Why else is she late?
    must have
    can’t have

  • 2 – He ___ gone to the beach. He hates being in the sun.
    may have
    can’t have

  • 3 – I ___ written down the number incorrectly. I’ve just called a hospital not the restaurant.
    must have
    might have

  • 4 – They ___ been at the cafe but I didn’t see them.
    must have
    could have

  • 5 – John ___ been very happy when he found out he was going to be a father. He’s wanted this for a long time.
    may have
    must have

  • 6 – He ___ gone to the city centre. He did say he wanted to go shopping.
    could have
    can’t have