Which one would be correct, please

a) Just ask him if he has received the payment
b) Just ask him has he received the payment
c) Just ask him whether he has received the payment

  • B) is a wrong. Just ask him IF or WHETHER he has received payment.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 19:46
  • yes, that's what I have concluded myself. In my opinion, the most suitable option would be WHETHER. IF could've been used IN THIS PARTICULAR example too.
    – Oscar
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 19:56
  • In general, please provide more details. For example, where you found this or why you want to know. If this is for an essay or an exam, then a) is probably the right choice. However, in causal or informal writing or speech, b) is used too.
    – Em.
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 20:08
  • b) makes me think of an uneducated speaker. I do not criticize how people speak as a linguist. But, if wearing a teacher hat, I would not teach this as an acceptable standard English form. So, if ya wanna go street, yeah, its good. If not, it ain't.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 18:13
  • Your question would be improved if you can tell us more what you mean by "correct". Answers can be more specific if you explain why you want to know. Do you have a certain situation in mind, in which the message would be used? In conversation, to answer a question on a test or quiz? In a certain country or culture? In an office? Is the speaker intending to be polite and helpful, or is the speaker angry or impatient? In a novel, representing something a street criminal might say to one of their gang members? Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 5:58

6 Answers 6


English speakers use both of them.

The second one would be expected only in casual speech and written representations of speech. If it were written, including the comma, as in kasfme's answer, would be more conventional and more acceptable to some people.

  • 1
    B) is wrong. It is not grammatical at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 19:47
  • Although B is not grammatical, it is used by English speakers. Jim Reynolds implies this when they say that it is used in casual speech, and very informal writing. But I suppose Lambie is correct. As written, B is not considered correct in formal written contexts.
    – kasfme
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 3:21
  • The OP doesn't ask about formal discourse. Correctness is a meaningless term unless it is defined such that speakers and listeners share an understanding of it. So is ungrammatical, as there are many grammars. Some grammars aspire higher than others to define terms such as grammatical. I am relatively ignorant in this area myself, but I know enough to understand that labeling B in the question as merely incorrect, ungrammatical, unacceptable, etc., is folly, tending to create more confusion in any learner than it resolves. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 5:03

a) Just ask him if he has received the payment

b) Just ask him has he received the payment

c) Just ask him whether he has received the payment

As extensively stated in other answers, all three are to some extent "correct". A and C are more "standard" (written or spoken) responses while B is a more colloquial spoken response.

Focusing specifically on B: It seems like a transformation of a direct quote into an indirect quote:

Ask him, "Have you received the payment?"

Ask him has he received the payment.

In spoken English it's not common to directly quote, word-for-word, what someone says or should say to someone else. The more natural way to express this is to transform the quote to the third-person and (implicitly) remove the quotations marks. Naturally you need to transform all the other pronouns to match the subject:

Could you ask him, "Did you receive the present I sent you on your birthday?"

Could you ask him did he receive the present I sent him on his birthday.

This would not be common in written English unless the author was writing dialogue. Also while not always written, there is still an implied comma after "him".

It's possible this is just a simple extension of other uses of the indirect quote:

The newspaper says, "He is going to be the next mayor"

The newspaper says he is going to be the next mayor.


The caller said, "I think you should vote for him to be the next mayor".

The caller said he thinks I should vote for him to be the next mayor.


The candidate for mayor said, "I'm going to clean up this town!"

The candidate for mayor said he is going to clean up this town.

Again in the same way,

Could I ask, "Is he the right person for the job?"

Could I ask is he the right person for the job?

This pattern still sounds strange to my ears. I would say:

Could I ask if he is the right person for the job?

but it might be common in another vernacular. The best way to get familiar with these colloquialisms is to listen extensively to people who speak that vernacular.

  • I think the key question here is whether B (especially if it includes the much-demanded comma!) is informal Standard English, ungrammatical in Standard English, or ungrammatical in Standard English but grammatical in some dialects or in some particular "standard English", of which there are several. The authors of The Cambridge Grammer of the English Language, widely considered by linguists to be the best general and comprehensive grammar available, discuss this issue here: catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001025630.pdf. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 3:20
  • My interest in the question springs from my not knowing the best answer myself, and because my current state of learning is focused on this kind of issue, not to put down people who might only know what I knew a few months ago. With reference to your designation of colloquial, see especially section 2.2(b), last paragraph. The authors themselves acknowledge that defining "Standard English" is a "subtle concept". And certainly some intelligent experts have different perspectives. But the best answers will provide support for our opinions. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 3:29
  • Essentially, we need a meaningful definition of the term correct, if we are to designate an utterance as being correct or incorrect. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 3:32
  • I think you are on to something when you notice similarities between B and the grammar of indirect speech, but it is also different from the most typical examples of indirect speech that I'm familiar with. If B is an example of indirect speech, or If the grammatical logic for B rationally extends from that of reported speech so tightly that its reasonably deemed grammatical informal discourse, I'd like to see more detail on that. Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 3:40
  • 1
    There is nothing at all wrong with your statement that B sounds strange to your ears, but we often feel strange about language that we deliberately focus on, when--if someone just said that to us in everyday life--we would process the meaning without thought and perhaps experience it as perfectly natural. Maybe this idea can be illustrated to some extent by looking at something like How do you do? Lots of English is strange! Commented Oct 22, 2016 at 3:48

A is correct.

a) is an instruction. Just ask him.

b) should be written as question. When speaking, you can use b) like this:

Just ask him, has he received the payment?


Note that in your first example, the word "if" is not used to introduce a conditional clause, but to mean "whether". The two words are often interchangeable, depending on the context, but not always.

For instance, the following examples have different meanings: "Let me know if you are going" and "let me know whether you are going".

In the first example the request is to be informed IF "you are going" (but not if you are not going).

In the second example, the request is to be informed of your intention, whether or not you are going.



Basic Grammar:

a) Just ask him if he has received the payment [correct]

b) Just ask him has he received the payment [incorrect]

BEST: c) Just ask him whether he received the payment or has received the payment. [correct, both verb forms]

  • This is merely a statement that a sentence is "incorrect", apparently meaning ungrammatical. Based on what evidence? It seems to me that you are confusing formality with grammaticality. English speakers use language like this, especially in speech, especially informally. Who can say that it's "incorrect"? Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 17:02
  • There is a minimum acceptable level: /Just ask him: "Has he received the payment?"/ But not as formulated under B above. I guess you have never taught English. I mean let's just say whatever right? Or does any go? I am not confusing anything with anything. It is best not to teach trailer park forms to English language learners. They'll get their soon enough. It's spoken English for sure, uneducated register.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 18:10
  • Again, you merely state that there is a minimum acceptable level (of what?) You are engaging in what is called taste tyranny in chapter 1 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, widely considered to be the best general description of the grammar of the language by linguists. It is available here: catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001025630.pdf. The widespread problem of imposing one's personal preferences and opinions on others as "rules" is described therein. I do not doubt that your intention is positive and that you have contributions to make. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 2:54
  • If a piece of discourse is, let us suppose, used only by people who live in trailer parks, should they be prohibited from speaking? What if an author wants to write a novel populated with characters who live in trailer parks? If such an author wrote representations of their speech, would all such writing be "incorrect"? Who has the authority to decide that, besides you? Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 3:03
  • I said, and now repeat that as a linguist, all speech is legitimate, fine and wonderful. No one has an RIGHT to criticize an individual's speech in terms of anything at all. That said, when one is answering questions from learners, one doesn't go round saying that what a linguist would consider marked as informal, spoken and non-standard speech is grammatically correct re the canon (not set by me, I would add). Any school, university or other "institution, etc. (press, media etc.) would say the same. Of course, in literature, everything is possible.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 13:40

Your option a is already correct. The key word there is "if." It sets up a conditional phrase and expects back a simple true or false.

Your option b is incomplete. You could phrase it this way instead:

Just ask him, "have you received the payment".

but that's a different type of statement. In my formatting you're specifically telling someone what words to say rather providing more generic instructions.

Your option c is arguably incomplete. The key word here is "whether." The word "whether" is different from the word "if" in that it sets up an either or phrase. So a more correct (or rather more formal) variant would be:

Just ask him whether or not he received the payment.

You don't have to use the "or not" phrasing, but it is the more complete way to write that sentence.

  • Option B is "incomplete" according to who? Your answer would be improved if you provided evidence to support your statements. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 3:00

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