Indirect Questions

What are Indirect Questions?

There are ways of asking something without technically asking a question. For example, you can state that you don't know something and imply that you would like to know. Situations like this, where the question is only implied, are called indirect questions.

Examples:

  • „Wie heißt deine Tochter? Ich habe es vergessen.“ (Direct Question)
  • „Ich habe vergessen, wie deine Tochter heißt.“       (Indirect Question)

They are called indirect questions because, well, they are an indirect way of asking the question.

We do this for different reasons in different situations: sometimes it just feels more natural to do it this way, and sometimes we want to be more polite. Either way you ask, they are likely to tell you their daughter's name.

Indirect Yes/No-Questions

Using "ob" (="if"):

  • „Ich weiß nicht mehr, ob ich den Herd ausgemacht habe.“
    ( ⇒ „Habe ich den Herd ausgemacht?“)
  • „Kannst du mir sagen, ob Maria gestern mit deiner Frau telefoniert hat?
    ( ⇒ „Hat Maria gestern mit deiner Frau telefoniert?“)
  • „Wissen Sie, ob Herr Meier schon an seinem Arbeitsplatz ist?“
    ( ⇒ „Ist Herr Meier schon an seinem Arbeitsplatz?“ )

In the first example, the question is implied. In the other two examples, you aren't asking the question you want the answer to. You are expecting the other person to read between the lines and tell you whether Maria talked to their wife or if Herr Meier is at his desk.

Indirect W-Questions

Indirect w-questions are constructed in a way similar to direct w-questions, but they are placed in a subordinate clause instead of a main clause. That means you have to move the conjugated verb to the end.

Examples

  • „Ich wüsste gern, was bei der Prüfung abgefragt wird.“ 
    ( ⇒ Was wird bei der Prüfung abgefragt?“)
  • „Können Sie mir sagen, wo hier die Kantine ist?“ 
    ( ⇒ Wo ist hier die Kantine?“)
  • „Weißt du, warum wir alle warten müssen?“ 
    ( ⇒ Warum müssen wir alle warten?“ )

This is more polite than the direct version.

Summary

  • Indirect questions require the listener to read between the lines to realize that a question is being asked.
  • They are seen as more polite than direct questions
  • Since indirect questions are subordinate clauses, the verb goes at the end.
  • Indirect yes/no-questions are formed using "ob" 

Related Topics:

General information about forming questions in German.

How to form questions with prepositions.

Indirect questions are subordinate clauses. Here's where you can find out more info about subordinate clauses.

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