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embedded question

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embedded question

An example of an embedded question

Definition:

A question that appears in a declarative statement or in another question.

The following phrases are commonly used to introduce embedded questions:
Could you tell me . . .
Do you know . . .
I wanted to know . . .
I wonder . . .
The question is . . .
Who knows . . .

Unlike conventional interrogative structures, in which word order is reversed, the subject usually comes before the verb in an embedded question.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
    (Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)


  • "The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."
    (Martin Luther King, Jr.)


  • "I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go? I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away."
    (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951)


  • Stylistic Conventions
    "Kate [a copy editor] moves on to the second sentence:
    The question is, how many re-readings are reasonable?
    Uncertain about how to treat a question ('how many re-readings are reasonable?') embedded in a sentence, she picks up [The Chicago Manual of Style] . . . [and] decides to apply the following conventions:

    1. The embedded question should be preceded by a comma.
    2. The first word of an embedded question is capitalized only when the question is long or has internal punctuation. A short informal embedded question begins with a lowercase letter.
    3. The question should not be in quotation marks because it is not a piece of dialogue.
    4. The question should end with a question mark because it is a direct question.
    Since the author has followed all these conventions, Kate changes nothing."
    (Amy Einsohn, The Copyeditor's Handbook. Univ. of California Press, 2006)


  • Embedded Questions in AAVE
    "In AAVE [African-American Vernacular English], when questions are embedded in sentences themselves, the order of the subject (boldfaced) and the auxiliary (italicized) may be inverted unless the embedded question begins with if:
    They asked could she go to the show.
    I asked Alvin whether did he know how to play basketball.
    *I asked Alvin if did he know how to play basketball.
    (Irene L. Clark, Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003)
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