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It can be just a learner's habit, but I frequently (mis)use direct interrogative forms when I'm actually supposed to use indirect forms. Part of the reason is that it sometimes sounds even more natural to me, and other times I feel like even listeners understand my intent better in that way.

Let me leave an example below. Suppose my friend and I are traveling together and he saw me ask about something to a random person. When he asks me what I asked that person, I'd answer like this.

I asked him how can I get to the destination we're looking for.

Now this is using a direct interrogative form, but as far as I know, this is not so grammatical. I have to stutter every time to correct the right interrogative form, unfortunately. :(

But sometimes I come across occasions where even native speakers do this. The main reason why I auto-correct myself when doing this is because I thought it sounds so unnatural to native ears. Is it acceptable (or even idiomatic) in verbal conversations? Are there situations where I'm absolutely not allowed to use direct interrogatives? (in casual settings, not in a grammatical sense)

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    Your example text isn't very idiomatic in the first place. A native speaker would probably say I asked him how to get there anyway, but if you include the (optional, unnecessary) auxiliary verb it should be past tense to match asked, hence I asked him how I could get to the destination we were looking for. Your version does occur with native Anmglophonres, but it's much more common with non-native speakers. Just bear in mind that it "sounds even more natural" to you to use "question inversion" precisely because you're not a native Anglophone! (It doesn't to me! :) Jul 2, 2023 at 10:38
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    (Your exact example sounds even worse than most because you've compounded the asked / can tense clash with [the destination] we're = we are [looking for].) Jul 2, 2023 at 10:41

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I asked him how can I get to the destination we're looking for.

Unlike main clause interrogatives, subordinate interrogatives don't normally have subject-auxiliary inversion.

But some varieties (mainly in the USA) do allow inversion in contexts of strong question-orientation, which explains why your example is not ungrammatical to everyone.

Other examples include:

She asked [what had she had done wrong].

Ed wanted to know [was she ill].

But not:

*He didn't know [was she ill].

which does not have a strong question-orientation.

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  • Need to be careful here. If the OP is a student, these examples could be considered wrong in a formal test/exam situation. While it is true that native speakers often ignore standard grammar rules especially when it comes to regional dialects/varieties of English which allow such constructions, a learner could potentially lose marks.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 2, 2023 at 14:10
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To me as a native UK English speaker, your example would be understood, but it sounds awkward and unnatural. Technically speaking, there are three grammatical errors.

If the question you asked was this:

How can I get to the destination we are looking for?

Then, in reported speech this would become:

I asked him how I could get to the destination we were looking for.

Note that you are reporting what you said, so you don't need the subject verb inversion as you are not forming a question. Also note how all the verbs transform into the past tense. We can sometimes retain present tense verb forms in reported speech, but usually only if something is a fact, or is still true.

In everyday speech, I could might be considered redundant here, because it's obvious, so it's possible to omit it entirely. It would also make the sentence flow better in a conversation, in a more natural way.

I asked him how to get to the destination we were looking for.

If it's clear from the context, you could also omit the whole part about the destination and simply use there instead.

I asked him how to get there.

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