How do you distinguish a free relative from an indirect question? Both begin with wh-words. How are they different in meaning? Are the following sentences examples of free relatives or indirect questions?

Where he lives has been frequently asked.

What he said that day has been frequently asked.


An indirect question may use a clause like this. You can tell it is a question because the person speaking is expecting an answer.

Tell me what it is.

This is an indirect question. It uses the imperative form, and expects a response. The grammatical structure has a clause "what it is". That clause has the same structure and meaning in:

A cat is what it is.

But this second sentence doesn't expect a response and so isn't an indirect question.

In you examples, there is no expected response. These are no imperatives or questions (direct or indirect)


I would say both the sentences contain free relatives (they ain't indirect questions).

This is because the hallmark of a free relative is that it functions as a subject, an object, or a complement in a given sentence.

In your example sentences the free relatives are noun phrases in fused relative construction, and function as the subjects of the respective sentences.

  • Can't indirect questions function as subjects? – Apollyon Apr 6 at 9:30

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