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How can I answer a question within a question? Which should be answered first; the former one, or the latter one? For example:

Can you tell me, who is PM of India?

Answer 1:

Yes I can tell you.

Answer 2:

Mr. Narendra Modi.

Which is more accurate?

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    Obviously both are correct, but most would regard the former as jokey, I think. When people ask questions like "Can you tell me X?" they expect the answer to the question within a question. Can/Could you tell me is added as a preface so as not to appear overly direct.
    – user3395
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 15:10

1 Answer 1

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Asking a very direct question can appear rude, in some situations.

A way to make a question less direct is to ask about the question:

Can you tell me who the Prime Minister of India is?

This removes the "demand" implied by asking "Who is the PM of India?" and so makes the question politer. It requires the person listening to understand that this is just a polite indirection, and answer

"Mr Modi" or "I don't know."

Answering the question directly

"Yes, I can"

Is being a "jerk". You would be expected to understand that this is just a polite question and to answer the implied question.

Using "can" questions can also be used to make polite requests. If someone says:

Can you make me a cup of tea?

And you answer "Yes, I can", but do nothing, you are being a "jerk". A proper response would be either

Sure, do you want milk?

or

I can't right now, I'm really busy.

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  • A jerk or a joker depending on your tone, your relationship with the asker, the context of the conversation, and whether you would stick to this or answer the nested question if they tried again! Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 15:05
  • Such indirectness can be taken too far. I haven't heard this in years, but strangers have sometimes approached me with “You wouldn't happen to know [some very ordinary datum], would you?” – What, I appear unlikely to know that? How insulting! Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 2:10
  • Agree with @James K
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 14:13

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