How to Use Embedded Questions to Soften Requests and Sound More Polite

Podcast #7 How to Use Embedded Questions to Soften Requests and Sound More Polite

Let’s discuss embedded questions, which are also known as indirect questions.

Embedded questions are questions contained within another statement or question.

They are used to repeat a previously asked question, indicate a point of confusion or doubt, or sound more polite when making a request.

Embedded questions are especially common in everyday speech when telling a story, or when we want to signal to someone that we know our question requires them to take some time to explain something to us.

Pay attention to how native speakers make requests, especially in a service setting – you’ll start to notice that embedded questions are more common than direct ones!

After listening to this podcast, you will understand how embedded questions are formed and be able to use embedded questions more confidently.

To show what you’ve learned, leave a comment below giving an example of an embedded question.

What is something you would like to know, and how can you be more polite when asking your question?

Transcript:

Welcome to the English with Kim podcast! This podcast is for people who want to sound more natural when speaking English.

I discuss grammar, vocabulary, everyday English expressions, pronunciation, and intonation.

My goal is to build your confidence in English and hopefully teach you a couple of new tricks.

In today’s podcast, I’m going to talk about embedded questions, otherwise known as indirect questions.

You can find this podcast and a transcript of the podcast at englishwithkim.com/podcast7.

Embedded questions are questions contained within a statement or another question.

We use embedded questions when we want to report a previously asked question, or when we want to be a little more indirect, or a little more polite.

In spoken English, using embedded questions to soften your language or to re-state or re-ask another question is incredibly common.

For this reason, it’s important that English learners understand how to use embedded questions correctly.

There are a number of verbs or verb phrases that signal an embedded question:

  • want to know
  • ask
  • wonder
  • want/need/would like to find out
  • not sure
  • let’s ask
  • let me know
  • I’d like to ask

And there’re also several questions that signal that an embedded question is going to follow it:

  • Could I ask…?
  • Could you tell me…?
  • Do you know…?
  • Can/Do you remember…?
  • Would you mind explaining/repeating, or clarifying…?
  • Do you have any idea…?
  • Do you happen to know…?

All of these phrases signal to your listener that you’re about to ask a question or that you’re about to make a request.

Now that you’ve introduced your question, you need to ask your question.

So if you’re asking a yes/no question, you’re going to use the word “if,” “whether,” or the phrase “whether or not.”

For information questions, or wh- questions, you’ll just use the question word: who, what, where, when, why, or how.

Now here comes the tricky part.

After you’ve introduced your embedded question with if, whether, who, what, where, when, why, or how, you need to state your question.

And the most important thing to remember when you state your question is that you need to put the subject first, and then the verb. I repeat, subject, then verb.

This is where most students get confused. They think they’re asking a question, so they use question order, which is verb, and then subject.

That’s why it’s important to remember that your embedded question is actually a noun clause.

Your question comes in the introductory phrase when you say “I wonder,” “I’m not sure,” “Could I ask,” “Do you know,” “Do you have any idea…?”

Those phrases are where you’re actually asking the question.

The embedded question that follows if, whether, who, what, where, when, why, or how is actually a noun clause, which is why the word order is subject, then verb.

Once again, subject, then verb.

Let’s take a look at some examples. Let’s start with the question, “When’s the last train?”

If you’re talking with your friend, you might say, “Let’s ask when the last train is.”

When you ask another person, you want to be a little more polite, and that’s why you use an embedded question.

For example, you could say, “Could you tell me when the last train is?” or “Do you have any idea when the last train is?”

Maybe you’re looking for a new apartment. Your question is, “Is the apartment available?”

So you may call someone and say, “I wanted to know if the apartment is still available.”

Or maybe you meet an attractive, interesting woman. and you want to know if she has a boyfriend.

Then you can say to your friend, “I wonder if she has a boyfriend.” Or you can ask someone, “Do you know if she has a boyfriend?”

As you can see from these examples, using embedded questions helps you soften your language and sound a little more polite.

Using embedded questions is actually really common in everyday speech, so it also helps you sound more natural when speaking English.

The most important thing to remember is that after introducing your question, you must use subject, verb word order. That’s key to using embedded questions correctly.

After listening to this podcast, I hope you feel more confident using embedded questions. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

Thank you for listening to the English with Kim podcast.

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