I have an exercise to convert a sentence into direct speech:

Rajeev said, "But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?"

I believe the answer should be

Rajeev reminded his dad hadn't he promised him a new laptop.

According to my textbook the answer is

Rajeev reminded his dad if he hadn't promised him a new laptop.

I am not sure if it is "he hadn't" or "hadn't he"?

  • 3
    The if is also doubtful (at least in British English). But I think this is best suited to our sister site. Apr 17, 2022 at 8:42
  • Isn’t direct speech a quote? “Didn’t you promise me a new laptop?”, asked Rajeev.
    – Jim
    Apr 17, 2022 at 14:27
  • 1
    Rajeev asked whether his dad had promised him a new laptop.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2022 at 15:44
  • 2
    Context, context, context, context, and context. Never assume a sentence in isolation is always clear and answerable. I found the source and I've understood why the verb "reminded" was used: google.co.uk/books/edition/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 18, 2022 at 11:52
  • @Mari-LouA Hopefully an object lesson for Aayush. However the if in all the options is definitely non-standard. Apr 19, 2022 at 7:13

7 Answers 7


In the direct speech

But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?

the verb didn't you is inverted. This is normal when one is asking a question: "Didn't you...?" "Have you...?"

In indirect speech, it's not a question, but rather a statement. Moreover, it's a statement which is not asking for confirmation. Rajeev's dad had indeed promised a new laptop.

Rajeev reminded his dad that he had promised him a new laptop.

  • Not is not required here. It's a positive statement that the promise was made.
  • Because it's a positive statement, the verb is in the statement position, he had.
  • That is helpful to introduce the statement.
  • You can't use if here, because you cannot remind someone of a condition. (You can remind someone of an entire conditional: "Rajeev reminded his dad that if he hadn't promised him a new laptop, he would have bought one himself.")

Now, that's a very complicated conversion into indirect speech. A far simpler answer is to use the verb ask, because Rajeev is actually asking a question.

Rajeev asked his dad...

Using ask allows you to use if, as the preferred answer has.

Rajeev asked his dad if he hadn't promised him a new laptop.

This is a straightforward conversion: use the verb ask, and then simply re-write the question as a statement (because it's no longer a question; it's indirect speech). As it's now a statement, the verb is not inverted.

Rajeev said, "But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?"
Rajeev asked his dad if he hadn't promised him a new laptop.

  • 1
    "Rajeev reminded his dad that he had promised him a new laptop." definitely seems the nearest equivalent to me, but of course it doesn't capture the tone of a complaining teenager anything like as well as the original; for example it doesn't capture that Rajeev has phrased it in a way that requires the father to either confirm or deny that the promise was made. Apr 18, 2022 at 9:40
  • @MichaelKay Agreed. The negative "if he hadn't promised" sounds quite strange to me (AmE speaker) and I had to read it several times to make sense of it. But maybe this kind of negative construction is more common in British English? Apr 18, 2022 at 20:34
  • 1
    @WaterMolecule I'm British and it sounds very awkward to me, too.
    – Chris H
    Apr 19, 2022 at 5:10
  • I'm British and it doesn't sound awkward at all. If it did I wouldn't have suggested it. Apr 19, 2022 at 6:53

Your answer is not correct, nor is the answer provided in the textbook.

You cannot remind somebody if or whether. You remind them that or of something. You can ask them if/whether

So while there are several ways of turning your quote into indirect speech, those offered do not work.

One might be: Rajev asked his dad (indignantly/in surprise) whether he hadn't promised him a new laptop.

If you wanted to make the pronouns clearer: ....whether his father had not promised him or whether he hadn't promised his son....

  • 1
    I wondered whether remind somebody if .. might be customary in Indian English (it certainly isn't in British or I think American). But the GloWbE corpus has no examples from India or neighbouring countries.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 17, 2022 at 10:08

This is (Almost Certainly) a Rhetorical Question

You likely know that already, but since this is a site for learners at all levels of fluency, I’ll go into this with some examples.

At minimum, you want to be aware of this figure of speech so you don’t sound like you’re asking a rhetorical question when you don’t mean to.

"But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?"

The adverb not makes this a rhetorical question. That is, his father did in fact promise his son Rajeev a laptop, and the son remembers. Phrasing it as a question is a polite way to remind the father of his promise, without directly contradicting him. This is reinforced by the word “But,” which implies that this is a response to a statement Rajeev disagrees with.

In American English, I would ask, “Did you promise me a laptop?” if I were genuinely unsure whether he had or had not. The adverb not in the main verb of a question almost always means that the expected answer is yes.

A good example of this construction is the song “It’s over, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it over? You won, and she chose you, and now she’s gone.” The speaker is asking the same thing three different ways, but already knows the answer. (Here, asking as a question represents her denial of something she knows to be true.)

To ask a rhetorical question where the expected answer is no, add a positive question tag at the end, such as “is it?” “did he?” or “have you?”

So, “Dad. did you promise me a laptop?” is usually a plain question, and the most likely way for Rajeev to ask his father to clarify or confirm it. “You didn’t promise me a laptop, did you?” is a rhetorical question with the opposite implication, that Rajeev doesn’t think that’s what his father really meant.

In modern English, such rhetorical questions almost always use contractions, and asking one without using a contraction is very formal or old-fashioned. You see the word not written out in rhetorical questions in some translations of the Bible. (“Is this not so?” when the answer is supposed to be yes, or “This is not so, is it?” when the answer is supposed to be no.) Otherwise, “did you not?” or “is it not?” sounds like something an arrogant lawyer might ask a witness on cross-examination.

Your Textbook Gave Bad Advice

I respectfully have to disagree with the answer it gives, and I hope that’s not representative of the quality of the book.

Rajeev reminded his dad if he hadn't promised him a new laptop.

First, at least where I live, you never “*remind someone if ....” That usage is incorrect. You can “ask someone if ...” or “ask someone whether ...” but you “remind someone that ...” or “remind someone how ....” It’s one of those arbitrary rules that don’t get written down anywhere, and are so hard for non-native speakers to memorize. I don’t have a name for it and can’t explain why that is, but I could immediately tell that the sentence was not written by a native speaker. On behalf of my ancestors, I apologize. A good way to check for these, though, is a ngram search on Google Books.

The suggested response seems to mash together two possible correct responses. Rajeev might “ask his father whether he hadn’t promised him a new laptop.” The same kind of rhetorical inversion works there too: “whether he had” implies it was a genuine question, but “whether he hadn’t” correctly implies that the question was rhetorical. Rajeev might also “remind his father that he had promised him a new laptop.” This just sees through the rhetorical question and summarizes it as equivalent to a direct statement.

But remember, this kind of inversion does not apply to “reminded that,” only to “asked if.” Rajeev reminded is father that he had promised. Reminding his father that he hadn’t would mean the exact opposite.

I would probably summarize a negative rhetorical question using an adverb like really. So, “Dad, you didn’t just promise me a new laptop, did you?” would become something like, “Rajeev asked his father whether he had really promised him a new laptop.” A parallel to the reminded version might be, “Rajeev doubted that his father had promised him a new laptop.”

The use of pronouns, “if he hadn’t promised him,” is ambiguous as well. This textbook was probably written for students who would assume that fathers sometimes promise to buy their sons laptops and forget, not the other way around. But if it is not clear from context which of the two men is “he” and which is “him,” you would want to say something like “his father had promised him” or “he had promised Rajeev.” A more formal option would be to say “the former” (in this case, the first person mentioned in the sentence, Rajeev) and “the latter,” (the most recent person mentioned, in this case, Rajeev’s father).

  • google.co.uk/books/edition/… The question posed by the OP is not identical to the one in the textbook
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 18, 2022 at 11:53
  • The use of "remind" fits within the context, and is appropriate, because the speaker first asks their father if he will be gifted with a laptop, the father replies he will but on one condition. The son reminds his father that he'd made a promise, the father agrees but adds that his greatest desire is to see his son come top in his class.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 18, 2022 at 11:59
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Thank you for the context. I agree that “remind” is appropriate. However, it should be “remind that” or “remind how.” “Remind if” is incorrect English.
    – Davislor
    Apr 18, 2022 at 18:07
  • Very good point, I had missed that in the solution offered. Well done for telling the OP it should be reminded that / how in your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 18, 2022 at 18:26

The question is open ended. It requires a Yes or No answer. So, yes or no can be rendered in indirect form by whether.

"But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?" [Yes, he did. No, he didn't.]


Rajeev asked whether his dad had promised him a new laptop or not. OR
Rajeev asked whether his dad hadn't promised him a new laptop.

This: Rajeev reminded his dad if he hadn't promised him a new laptop. is very awkward.

Why introduce the verb remind? It isn't implied by the question.

  • @Mari-LouA It is not always symmetrical like that. You could also say: Rajeev asked whether his dad hadn't promised him a new laptop. His original question was negative interrogative, by the way. Therefore, "did you" is not quite right.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17, 2022 at 17:42
  • But while Rajeev's utterance has the form of a question, it's not so much a question, as an assertion coupled with a demand for confirmation. "Didn't you say X" means "I believe you said X, please confirm". Apr 18, 2022 at 9:44
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/313486/… Within the full context, the verb "remind" is permissible. I just wish users sate their sources and added the context.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 18, 2022 at 12:06
  • @Mari-LouA Generally speaking, in converting to indirect speech, one tries to remain close to the original. The verb remind is far away from it. Although many verbs can be used here.
    – Lambie
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:00
  • @Acccumulation What can I say but "ha, ha, ha" to that. I am not sure this is about conversational English at all. repeat: "Rajeev said, "But, dad, didn't you promise me a new laptop?" We have no idea whether Rajeev is even addressing his dad in the indirect speech. We can only surmise that Rajeev said something to his dad, not that he reminded his dad of something. If one is being picky.
    – Lambie
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:20

Rendered in reported speech, it is:

Rajeeve reminded his dad of having promised him a new laptop.


It would change like this: Rajeev reminded his dad had he not promised hik a new laptop.

P.S: I have confirmed this from two expert teachers!

  • 2
    Hi Harshit. Great that you have confirmed this, but we cannot verify that, and so that won't help your answer :) Besides, if you propose a rephrasing, some basic grammar checking of your proposal would really help your case. Moreover, this is incorrect. Please take the Tour to familiarize yourself with our platform. Welcome to ELL!
    – Joachim
    Apr 18, 2022 at 8:33

I guess it will be "Rajeev asked his dad that did he not promise him a new laptop".

  • 1
    Unfortunately, “*that did he not” isn’t grammatical. “That he did not” or “that he had not” might work—except, because “did you not” is a rhetorical question, either of those would have the opposite meaning.
    – Davislor
    Apr 17, 2022 at 21:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .