Questions (1): direct or indirect

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There are some important differences between the ways in which these grammatical units are structured. It can be difficult to keep apart, particularly for foreign learners of English; but even native writers can make errors at times. Understand the structures, and then use them with consistent care - and indeed consistency.

A direct question is one actually asked, face-to-face - or its equivalent in writing. "What time is it?" is an example of a common face-to-face direct question; "How would you define reflation?" is an example of its written equivalent - here in an examination paper.

When we are reporting a question, in a narrative, for example, we are using an indirect question, sometimes called a reported question. For the two examples above, the reported, or indirect, equivalents are "He asked me what time it was" and "The examiner asked how the candidates would define reflation." Notice that in an indirect question, unlike a direct question, no question mark is used; and there are no speech marks round the words of the question.

See also reported speech.