An embedded question is one in which the interrogative is in the middle of what looks like a yes-or-no question. In fact, embedded questions are asking for more than a yes-or-no answer but are phrased more indirectly than a question beginning with an interrogative word. They often begin with such phrases as “Do you know … ?” and “Can you tell me … ?” You use this sort of question all the time but probably don't think about it very much. Listen to Track 22. Look at each example in the text and repeat each one after you hear it.
(Do you know where the museum is?)
(Can you tell me when the train to Toledo leaves?)
(Do you want to explain why there aren't any cookies?)
Use of Embedded Questions
Embedded questions can seem a bit more polite than direct questions. If you approach a stranger to ask about a train schedule, for example, the embedded question is less abrupt than the direct question. Sometimes, though, embedded questions are used to emphasize the question, as in the missing cookies example. Imagine a mother asking this of her kids. It's a pretty strong and direct question in that context.
Practice: Write Embedded Questions
Unscramble the words to write embedded questions. Then check your work against the sample answers in Appendix D.
¿saben / están / ustedes / los libros / dónde? ¿está / tú / el restaurante / entiendes / por qué / cerrado? ¿cómo / explicar / usted / quiere / a / la estación de tren / llego? ¿trabaja / Jaime / decirme / quién / puede / allí? ¿vosotros / hay / qué / podéis / en el jardín / descubrir? ¿ellos / saben / va / adónde / Milagros? ¿usted / comienza / a qué hora / el programa / sabe? ¿Marisa / cómo / puede / preparar / explicarme / el flan?
Less obvious than embedded questions are embedded interrogatives, which seem to imply a question though they are phrased as statements. For example,
(The kids want to know where we're going.)
(Ask Rita what she prefers to eat.)
(We don't understand why you leave early.)
Some of the most obvious phrases that lead to these sorts of embedded interrogatives are