ISLPR Language Services Blog

“Tell me…”

Posted by on Aug 24, 2021 at 8:44 AM


Finish these sentences using one of the clauses that follow:

  1. Tell me ___________________.
  2. ____________________?


Clauses to choose from:

  • how did you do that?
  • how you did that.



> The correct answer to question 1 is “Tell me how you did that.”

> The correct answer to question 2 is “How did you do that?”


“how you did that” is called an indirect question: it is not the actual words that a person would use speaking directly to someone else.  That would be “How did you do that?” Here it is part of a statement “tell me …”.

Rather than a stand-alone question, grammatically “how you did that” is a clause with a subject (“you”), a verb (“did”) and a direct object (“that”).  The clause, “how you did that”, is the object of the verb “tell”.

Its force is that of a question but it is less direct, hence, an indirect question.  Hence, “how you did that” in the sentence “Tell me how you did that” can be called an indirect question of a noun clause object of “tell”.

The only way “how did you do that?” could follow “Tell me” would be if the speaker said, “Tell me” (pause) “How did you do that?”.   In other words, there would be two separate sentences: “Tell me” and “How did you do that?”

Saying “Tell me (pause).” “How did you do that?” is equivalent to saying, “Let me ask you a question. How did you do that?”


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