We all know that the aim of the reported speech is to repeat what was exactly said.

When the question begins with a question word (which, who, why, ...) we start our clause with it. Here are my examples:

  1. If this is the quote:

    Sara: 'Why were you absent?'

    Then this is the reported speech:

    Sara asks why I was absent.

  2. If we start with this quote:

    Paul: 'Which book is your favourite?'

    The reported speech will be:

    Paul asks which book is my favourite.

    But I think it is not a clause because we repeated the question. I think the sentence should be:

    Paul asks which my favourite book is.

Which one is correct?

  • I'm not sure what you're asking - what does repeating a question have to do with whether or not an utterance is a clause? – jimsug May 24 '14 at 8:18
  • Well,it is not a problem.I'll ask in another way:can you help me change this sentence to the direct reported speech,here it is:Which book is your favourite? – kathrine May 24 '14 at 8:35
  • I'm unclear on what you mean by direct reported speech - direct speech cannot be reported speech, as far as I know. Direct speech is quoted speech, and reported speech is indirect speech. Further: the aim of reported speech is whatever the writer wants. Reported speech doesn't have an inherent aim. – jimsug May 24 '14 at 8:39
  • 2
    Spanish Inquisitor: "Good morrow, Mrs Bogtrotter! Fetch the man of the house, so that I may question him." Terrified Irish Peasant: "He's not in. What do you want to know?" SI: "Catholic or Protestant?" TIP: "Please don't burn me at the stake sire! I'm a good Catholic!" SI: "I'm not interested in you! I want to know what your husband is". That's the kind of context where one can reasonably ask which [something] is (probably not OP's context). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 24 '14 at 18:04

Your rewritten indirect-speech question, “Paul asks which my favourite book is”, is grammatical, but it represents a slightly different discourse situation. In practice, the two versions mean exactly the same thing.

Let’s look at the transformation rules. We’ll start with a transitive sentence, since that shows all the moving parts. Suppose you state:

“John stole the book.” … [SUBJ John] [VERB stole] [DirO the book]

  1. DirO Question I may respond by asking about the Direct Object (DirO) of your statement. In this case, the DirO is transformed into the interrogative What and moved to the front of my question.

    ... what John stole. ... [DirO what] [SUBJ John] [VERB stole] [DirO ←]

    The question also requires inversion of the Subject (SUBJ) and an Auxiliary Verb (AuxV); and since there is no AuxV in your original statement we call in DO-support to provide it. (DO represents the verb do appropriately inflected for tense, number and person.)

    “What did John steal?” … [DirO What] [AuxV did] [SUBJ John] [LexV steal] [DirO ←]?

    But when we transform my question into indirect speech, we ‘undo’ the inversion and DO-support, leaving only the transformed-and-fronted DirO:

    You ask me what John stole. … You ask me [DirO what] [SUBJ John] [VERB stole] [DirO ←].

  2. SUBJ Question If I ask about the SUBJ of your statement, there is no movement, only a transformation of the SUBJ into an interrogative. Because there is no movement, there is no DO-support and no SUBJ/AuxV inversion.

    Who stole the book? ... [SUBJ Who] [VERB stole] [DirO the book]?

    Consequently, when we come to recast this as indirect speech, there is no DO-support or SUBJ/AuxV inversion to undo; the interrogative piece has the same form as the question:

    You ask me who stole the book. ... You ask me [SUBJ who] [VERB stole] [DirO the book].

  3. VERB Question There is also the possibility that I ask you about the VERB of your statement; since that doesn’t enter into your question, I’ve posted this at the end of the answer.

A statement with an intransitive verb follows the same rules; but since there is no DirO to ask about, the rules in 1. are never called into play.

And the same rules are followed with copular verbs such as be and become and look, except the DirO is replaced by the Complement (COMP), and the interrogative changes to reflect what is being asked.

John became President.
What did John become? You ask me what John became.
Who became President? You ask who became President.

John looks really bad.
How does John look? You ask me how John looks.
Who looks really bad? You ask me who looks really bad.

But there are two extra bits with be.

  • First, even by itself be is treated as an auxiliary, so no DO- support is required.

    This is my favourite. Which is your favourite? ... Paul asks which is my favourite.

  • Second, statements with be are invertible—if you flip the Subject and the Complement, the meaning does not change.

    1. This (book) is my favourite (book). = 2. My favourite (book) is this (book).

The only difference between these two statements is that they put different constituents in the ‘new information’ position at the end. The decision of which to use is driven not by syntax, but by pragmatics, the discourse situation.

But questions, too, are driven by pragmatics. Let’s look at sentences 1 and 2 above, and run them through the transformation rules for (a) SUBJ and (b) COMPL questions. To simplify matters, I’m eliminating (book); you can stick it in wherever you want, because both which and favourite may act either as a nominal or as a determiner/adjective.

1a. [garble] is my favourite. ...
I’m sorry, which is your favourite? ... [Indirect:] Paul asks me which is my favourite.

1b. This is [garble].
I’m sorry, which is this? ... Paul asks me which this is.

2a. My favourite is [garble].
I’m sorry, which is your favourite? ... Paul asks me which my favourite is.

2b. [garble] is this.
I’m sorry, which is this? ... Paul asks me which is this.

As you see, both your versions obey the grammatical rules. And in practice they mean exactly the same thing.


VERB Question If I ask about the VERB of your statement, the transformations are more complicated.

  1. VERB is transformed into an interrogative phrase consisting of the pro-verb DO + the ‘dummy’ DirO what. The actual DirO is transformed into a preposition phrase with to or with:

    ... did what with the book ... [pro-VERB did] [DummyDirO+ what] [PrepPhr with the book].

  2. Then we front the dummy DirO, add DO-support, and perform the SUBJ/AuxV:

    What did John do with the book? ... [DummyDirO What] [AuxV did] [SUBJ John] [pro-LexV do] [DummyDirO ←] [PrepPhr with the book]?

  3. But when we recast this into indirect speech, we undo the inversion and DO-support, just as we do with a DirO question:

    You ask me what John did with the book. ... You ask me [DummyDirO what] [SUBJ John] [pro-VERB did] [DummyDirO ←] [PrepPhr with the book]?

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I don't think it's a purpose in itself to change the word order in a question when it's reported speech. There is a semantic difference between direct and reported speech, but the word order must change only when what was said was in an exclusively interrogative form, such as "why were you absent?", which uses inversion (you were -- were you). That form should not be used in reported speech. I think that "Paul asks which book is my favorite" is fine because there is no inversion.

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