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“I never know," Harry called to Hagrid over the noise of the cart, "what's the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite?" (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

There comes direct question after ‘I never know’. If it were indirect question, would it be ‘I never know what the difference between a stalagmite and stalactite is.’?

  • Indirect question is a term used with two meanings. SF has given you an answer addressing one meaning of the term; I've assumed you meant the other and given you a question addressing that meaning instead. – snailplane Oct 18 '13 at 15:34
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Yes, that's right. The quote introduces a direct question with I never know:

I never know, what's the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite?

You've turned it into an indirect question (a wh-relative clause):

I never know [ what the difference between a stalagmite and stalactite is. ]

The main difference is that the indirect question doesn't take the form of a question grammatically, so it doesn't undergo subject-auxiliary inversion, and it ends with a period rather than a question mark. The other difference is that the original sentence, containing a direct question, can contain a comma between the matrix verb and its complement; see this answer for a description of that structure.

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An indirect question is a request for answer, phrased as a question.

So, in this case it would be:

"Could you tell me what the difference between stalagmite and a stalactite is?"

"Hagrid, do you know the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite?

This is opposed to a direct question:

"Hagrid, what is the difference between stalagmite and a stalactite?"

In your situation, calling your quote an indirect question would be strecthing it: From grammatical point of view, your quote is not a question at all. It's a statement used in function of question.

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  • Does this - "I never know what the difference between a stalagmite and stalactite is" - make sense in itself? – Listenever Oct 18 '13 at 13:58
  • @Listenever: Yes, but grammatically it's a statement: Harry informs Hagrid about his own lack of knowledge. He does not request to change that situation. It could be just as well a reply to Hagrid asking: "Is this a stalactite or a stalagmite?" – SF. Oct 18 '13 at 14:08

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