Indirect question or not


I was wondering if this line below is an indirect question.



“What is wrong with that dragon.” he sputtered as he coughed up dirt.

as in this sentence below.

His mouth full of soil, his face blackened by the dusty earth, Chenos grumbled, grabbed up his little blue hat, and propped on his knees staring in the direction Nee had gone.   “What is wrong with that dragon.” he sputtered as he coughed up dirt.  

asked May 26 '13 at 00:25 lee leeeder New member

2 answers


Sorry, but Lee and Lewis are both confused here.  What is wrong with that dragon? is not an indirect question.  Not at all.  It might be a rhetorical question  but your excerpt does not provide enough information for us to be able to judge. 


What is an indirect question?


An indirect question has nothing whatsoever to do with whether someone is listening to the question or not.  An indirect question is either


(1) a grammatical yes/no question (Do you know what time it is?) that is actually semantically a WH-question (What time is it?) and which is rendered in yes/no, indirect, format to sound more polite, or


(2) a grammatical statement that is actually semantically a question, such as I wonder if he loves me


What is a rhetorical question?


Rhetorical questions, on the other hand, flip the grammatical-semantic difference:  they are grammatical questions but semantically they are statements.  For example, a parent might scold their misbehaving child by asking Can't you do anything right? but the meaning is You can't do anything right.


Rhetorical questions also have nothing to do with whether someone is listening to the question or not.  


What is wrong with that dragon? may well be a rhetorical question, perhaps meaning Something is very very wrong with that dragon, but from the limited context I think probably it is simply a run-of-the-mill, ordinary WH-question.  (WH-questions ask for information, not a yes/no answer.)  The speaker simply wants to know what is wrong with the dragon. The fact that he is talking only to himself would not change this. 


I hope this helps.

link edited May 26 '13 at 04:29 Shawn Mooney Expert

Well, that put a different slant on it and am grateful for your comment. I wasn't sure how much information would be needed to explain where I was coming from but you got the gist of it. Yes, he was talking to himself wondering why the dragon had suddenly fled before actually realizing soon after what that reason was. Many thanks.

lee leeederMay 27 '13 at 08:16

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It's an indirect question, but you need a question mark. A comma after sputtered would give a brief pause after 'sputtered'. It could be left out if you don't like it.


 “What is wrong with that dragon?” he sputtered, as he coughed up dirt.

link answered May 26 '13 at 02:56 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

Many many thanks. People have been telling me that it was a direct question but I couldn't see it, considering he wasn't actually asking anyone but making a statement. You have cleared a few things up here and I am grateful.

lee leeederMay 26 '13 at 03:12

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