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Which is the correct form?

Ask yourself, is this really what you want?

or

Ask yourself, "Is this really what you want?"

or

Ask yourself. Is this really what you want?

(Sorry for the title. I can't phrase the question properly. I don't know the areas in grammar associated with my question. If someone can give me a better title I'm more than willing to change it.)

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There is never any reason to use "him/herself" or its variants. –  tchrist Jan 14 '12 at 16:14
    
@tchrist: Of course there can be reasons. For example, I might comment to OP "tchrist should ask himself whether his comment would bear close scrutiny". –  FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 17:49
    
@FumbleFingers You misunderstood me. You didn’t say ‘him/herself’. You said ‘himself’. Big difference. –  tchrist Jan 15 '12 at 2:12

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It is possible to use direct and indirect speech. E.g:

Ask yourself: "Is this really what I want?"
Ask yourself if this is really what you want.

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I think it's worth pointing out that the fundamental point about OP's second example is that there's nothing wrong with the direct reported speech version in principle. But if he's going to use it, he must write "what I want", not "what you want", otherwise it really is just plain wrong. –  FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 18:42

The first is a form of indirect question and is best written as ‘Ask yourself if this is really what you want’. The second is the conventional way of writing a direct question. The third is a less conventional way and might be used for special effect, if, for example, the writer wanted to draw attention to the starkness of the question.

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I don't really see why you say "...is best written as..." It seems to me these are just stylistic variations that in and of themselves are equally valid. There's a level of "intimacy/immediacy" in the direct reported speech version which might often be better than the indirect one, but to have an opinion on which is "better" with only the context OP gives seems odd to me. –  FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 18:37
    
No, no, I didn't mean that indirect was preferable to direct. I simply meant that if the sentence is to be formulated as an indirect question, then ‘Ask yourself if this is really what you want’ might be preferable to 'Ask yourself, is this really what you want?' –  Barrie England Jan 14 '12 at 18:43
    
oic - yes, I agree. That last version in your preceding comment isn't exactly uncommon, but it's definitely a bit "iffy" if subjected to scrutiny. Sorta straddles direct and indirect reported speech in a way we're all quite used to reading, but don't really want to justify grammatically. –  FumbleFingers Jan 14 '12 at 18:47

As I have already mentioned many times in answers to other questions, there is no officially correct way for wording a phrase. Of course, sentences which are not grammatically correct (or don't make sense) can be classified as being incorrect, but except for this, there is no way to prove a phrase or expression as correct and others as wrong.

However, it is better to adopt the conventional form, i.e the form used by the most number of people, in order to ensure that the maximum number of people comprehend you.

In this case, I'd say

Ask yourself, "Is this really what you want?"

is the most grammatically correct. However using the indirect form is more popular (hence, it is conventional), which @mustafa has already mentioned. Therefore, I advise you to use:

Ask yourself if this is really what you want.

or

Ask yourself if this is really what you desire.

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