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If the original question is "What time is it?" and I want to communicate it to another person, are these Embedded Questions OK?

  • I don't know what time is it.

or

  • I didn't know what time was it. (if communicated later)
  • 4
    An "embedded question" does not invert the subject and auxiliary verb: "I don't know what time it is." – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 18 '15 at 17:32
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The easy way to find the word order in an embedded question is to make an in situ question with the embedded section. To make an in situ question, we just take a normal sentence and put the appropriate question word in the place of the missing information:

  • His name is what?
  • He is who?
  • Who killed JR?
  • You met my elephant where?
  • It is what time?

To make the embedded clause, move the wh word to the front of the clause but don't change anything else. If the wh word is already at the front, still don't change anything:

  • ... what his name is.
  • ... who he is.
  • ... who killed JR.
  • ... where you met my elephant.
  • ... what time it is.

You can then embed this in the main sentence. Let's use I don't know for the beginning of the sentence:

  • I don't know what his name is.
  • I don't know who he is.
  • I don't know who killed JR.
  • I don't know where you met my elephant.
  • I don't know what time it is.

So, for the Original Poster's example the first example needs to be I don't know what time it is. For the second example we can test it like this:

  • It was what time
  • ... what time it was.
  • I didn't know what time it was.

This shows that the Original Poster needs to change round was and it to make their sentence good.

Hope this is helpful!

  • 3
    I had to upvote this answer simply for your "You met my elephant where?" example. I really like how you broke your explanation down into steps, and it helped me understand rationally what I already knew intuitively. So you can stop hoping, it was helpful to at least one person ;) – ColleenV parted ways Mar 18 '15 at 19:59
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    @ColleenV I can confirm that it was helpful to at least two persons now. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Mar 18 '15 at 20:26
  • The question was “What time is it?” – present tense. Why did you switch to the past tense? “I don’t know what time it was,” is a good answer to someone asking when something in the past happened, but if someone is asking for the current time, the response would be “I don’t know what time it is.” – KRyan Mar 18 '15 at 21:11
  • @KRyan: The OP asked about both "I don't know what time it is" and "I didn't know what time it was". – psmears Mar 18 '15 at 22:29

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