Making Embedded Questions (Noun Clauses)

What is an Embedded Question?

Embedded questions, also known as noun clauses, can sound more polite (softer) than a direct question. Compare:

Direct Question: What are you doing?

Embedded Question: Could you tell me what you are doing?

As you can see, an embedded question is a question inside another sentence (the question is embedded within another sentence.). The sentence can be a statement or a question. For example:

I would like to know what your name is. (statement)

*Note that the question mark is removed because the sentence is a statement).

The same question can also be put inside another question. For example,

Can you tell me what your name is? (a question embedded in another question)

Do you mind telling me what your name is? (a question embedded in another question)

Thankfully, if you are putting a question into a sentence or another question, the grammar rules are the same. Let's review question-types in English before we look at the rules.

Rules for making embedded questions

Do you know how embedded questions are made?

The Two Question Types in English

1. Yes/No Questions: The answer to these questions are "Yes" or "No". Here are some examples:

    • Are you happy? 
    • Did you go?
    • Should we go?
    • Have you been to Cuba?

2. WH-Questions (also known as Information Questions)

These begin with a "WH" question word (Who/What/Which/Where/Why/When/How/How long/How far). These questions ask for information (not a Yes or No).

If you need to review the different patterns for forming Yes/No questions, see this page. To review the patterns for forming WH-Questions, see this page.

Common Phrases to Start Embedded Questions

Question patterns:

  • Can/Could/Would you tell me ...
  • Would/Do you mind...
  • Do you know...

Statements patterns:

  • I'd like to know...
  • I'm not sure...
  • I was wondering...
  • I wonder...
  • I don't know...
  • Please tell me...

Three Main Rules for Making Embedded Questions

1. Delete the Helping Verb 'Do/Does/Did' from the Original Question

  • Do you like sushi?
  • What does it mean?
  • How long did you sleep?

Do is an auxiliary verb (helping verb) used to make questions. This word is not needed because embedded questions are not structured like questions (they use statement word order, which will be explained below).

2. For Yes/No Questions, Add 'If/Whether'

If the direct question is a Yes/No question, then you will always need to add if or whether (whether is a little more formal) to the beginning of the embedded question.

Direct Yes/No Question: Can she dance?

Embedded Yes/No Question: I wonder if/whether she can dance.

3. Use Statement Word Order (Not Question Word Order)

In a regular question, the subject comes after either the main verb or an auxiliary verb (note: auxiliary verbs are helping verbs such as can/could/would/should/may/might/do/will/ought to). For example:

    • Is he sick? [Verb + Subject]
    • Can she dance? [Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb]
    • Do you understand? [Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Main Verb]

To make an embedded question, you have to use statement word order, which has the subject before the main verb or auxiliary verb. For example:

Can you tell me...

    • ... if he is sick? [If/whether + Subject + Main Verb]
    • ... whether she can dance? [If/whether + Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb]
    • ... if you understand? [If/whether + Subject + Main Verb] (*Note: 'do' is deleted.)


Review of Basic Rules

Let's review with this question, "Do you have a dog?"

Step 1. Delete the helping verb "do"

I wonder ... Do you have a dog?

Step 2. Add 'If' or 'Whether' for a Yes/No Question

I wonder if you have a dog. (correct!)

We don't need to do step #3 because we deleted 'do', which means the embedded question is already in statement order (if you have a dog = if + subject + verb + object). Let's practice another with "Where is he?"

Step 1: Not necessary (no 'do' in question)

Step 2: Not necessary (not a Yes/No question)

Step 3: Change to statement word order:

I wonder where he is. (correct!)

Those are the main rules. There are some special notes to learn, however, which will come below. First, let's practice the rules above.

Exercise 1: Embedded Questions (Easy)

Notes: Remember to add punctuation (a period for a statement or question mark for a question).

  1. (Where do they live?) > I wonder
  2. (Is Tony happy?) > Can you tell me
  3. (Should we visit?) > I don't know
  4. (What do you want?) > I'm not sure
  5. (How is the cake?) > Could you tell me
  6. (Who do you live with?) > Do you mind telling me


Note #1: Changing Verb Agreement or Tenses After Deleting 'Does/Did'

If the helping verb 'do' is in the past tense, then after you delete it, you must change the main verb to past tense. For example:

  • Did he go? > I wonder if he went. (go changes to went)
  • Who did she meet? > I wonder who she met. (meet changes to met)

If the helping verb is 'does' (third person singular), then after you delete it, you must change the main verb to third person singular (by adding 's'). For example:

  • Does she go often? > I wonder if she goes often. (go changes to goes)
  • Who does she meet? > I wonder who she meets. (meet changes to meets)

(Note: Do not delete 'didn't/did not' when making an embedded questions because these words are needed to make a verb negative. E.g. Why didn't he come? > I wonder why he did not come)

Let's practice.

Exercise 2: Changing Main Verbs

Please remember to add punctuation (a period for a statement or question mark for a question).

  1. (What did she say?) > I wonder
  2. (Does it matter?) > Can you tell me
  3. (Where did he go?) > I don't know
  4. (How long does it take?) > I'm not sure
  5. (Did he leave?) > Could you tell me
  6. (Which did he take?) > Do you mind telling me


Note #2: Do Not Change Anything for WH-Questions about the Subject

Some WH-Questions (information questions) are about the subject. In this case, you don't have to change anything because the sentence is already in statement order. For example:

Question: Who ate the cake?

Answer: John ate it.

In the answer "John ate it", the word John is the subject of the sentence.  For questions about subjects, you do not need to make any changes to the word order. (Note: Only 'Who/What/Which/Which(noun)' can ask questions about the subject.)

Who ate the cake? > I wonder who ate the cake. (No change)

What happened? > I wonder what happened. (No change)

Which is ours? >I wonder which is ours. (No change)

[Which classroom] is ours? > I wonder which classroom is ours. (No change)


Summary of Embedded Question Rules

  1. Delete helping verb do/does/did AND change verb tense or verb agreement if required.
  2. Add If/Whether for Yes/No Questions.
  3. Change to statement word order (S + V or S + AUX + V) if required.


Exercise 3: Intermediate Embedded Questions

Remember to add punctuation (a period for a statement or question mark for a question).

  1. (Who ordered pizza?) > I wonder
  2. (What does it cost?) > Can you tell me
  3. (Should we tip?) > I don't know
  4. (Did we tip enough?) > I'm not sure
  5. (Has he met Janet?) > Could you tell me
  6. (Will the manager arrive soon?) > Do you mind telling me
  7. (Is Mary going fishing?) > I wonder
  8. (Why didn't he ask?) > I don't know
  9. (What were they watching?) > Do you mind telling me



Those are the main rules for creating embedded questions. The rules are the same for noun clauses as well. If you have found a mistake or have a question, please leave a comment below.

- Written by Matthew Barton of (copyright)

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17 comments on “Making Embedded Questions (Noun Clauses)

  1. Hanskamal Kaur (Posted on 11-30-2020 at 23:07) Reply

    It is really helpful.
    Thank you!

  2. Claudio (Posted on 12-9-2020 at 13:16) Reply

    Congratulations! Wonderful explanation!!! very detailed and clear.

  3. Azhar (Posted on 1-3-2021 at 12:57) Reply

    Please let me know if it is correct to say:
    Do you know what will happen to them?

    I want to say above sentence in embedded question. Feel free to provide some examples.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 1-3-2021 at 14:17) Reply

      “Do you know what will happen to them?” is a correct embedded question.

  4. Mandeep kaur (Posted on 3-6-2021 at 19:22) Reply

    I did not get it . All my answers were incorrect.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-6-2021 at 23:26) Reply

      If the explanation was unclear, please try another resource for embedded questions (another webpage). Otherwise, please let me know what you do not understand, and I can try to help. If you felt that your answers were correct, yet they were marked as incorrect, it may because you did not use punctuation (e.g. a period at the end of the sentence).

  5. Shilla (Posted on 5-31-2021 at 21:47) Reply

    Well explained.

  6. Eliseo (Posted on 8-31-2021 at 13:55) Reply

    Thank you for the practicing section, it is easier to engage when one can engage by doing rather than just reading. However it seems a bit awkward that the page shows an incorrect answer when one responds only using “if” or “whether”, perhaps the user could be given a right answer if respondent didn’t have to respond both possible answers.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 8-31-2021 at 15:33) Reply

      Hello Eliseo. You do not need to write both ‘if’ AND ‘whether’ options for it to be considered correct. Is something broken on the page? Please let me know what your answer was so I can check.

  7. Fam (Posted on 9-7-2021 at 11:02) Reply

    I think there is a typographical error in this sentence –> Who ate the cake? > “I wonder who at the cake. (No change)”

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-7-2021 at 11:14) Reply


  8. mahsa (Posted on 11-2-2021 at 07:19) Reply

    It was really helpful. Thanks!

  9. Katherine (Posted on 3-8-2022 at 11:00) Reply

    I took almost 2 hours to answer but still some of my answers were incorrect. I still need more time to understand, but it is very helpful!

    “I wonder who ordered pizza.” I was confused with this for 30minutes.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-8-2022 at 21:23) Reply

      Did you figure it out?

  10. Manraj Preet Singh Sidhu (Posted on 5-19-2022 at 23:21) Reply

    It was great experience. It helped me a lot to understand better.

  11. Prabjot Kaur, ENGL 102, Section 05 (Posted on 8-16-2022 at 13:42) Reply

    Thank you, Professor. It was interesting, but the explanation was bit less on the topic.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 8-16-2022 at 15:31) Reply

      Hello. Yes, this was unrelated to today’s class. We won’t be studying embedded questions this term.

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