From Academic Kids

A question is any of several kinds of linguistic expressions normally used by a questioner to request the presentation of information back to the questioner, in the form of an answer, by the audience. Alternatively, one may say that the question is the request itself, and the interrogative sentence merely expresses it, but we will not use this sense. Questions thus resemble other requesting expressions as well as commands in normally being used to elicit a response. Indeed some expressions, such as "Would you pass the butter?", have the grammatical form of questions but function as requests for action, not for answers; these will be treated under request rather than here.

Questions have a number of secondary uses: They may be used ("Socratically") to guide the questioner along an avenue of research. A rhetorical question is asked in order to make a point, and does not expect an answer (often the answer is implied or obvious). Presuppositional questions, such as "Have you stopped beating your wife?" may be used as a joke or to embarrass the audience, because any answer a person could give would imply more information than he was willing to affirm. Questions can also be titles of works of art and literature (e.g. Leo Tolstoy's short story How Much Land Does a Man Need? and the movie What About Bob?).



In grammar, most languages distinguish interrogative sentences that put questions from declarative sentences that state propositions by syntax. Some devices used by languages for marking questions include:

Combinations of any of the above are possible, as well as alternative patterns for different types of questions. For example, English employs the syntactic approach (word order change) for common questions, but resorts to raising the tone and leaving the word order as it is for focused (emphatic) questions such as "You did what?". Spanish changes the word order only when interrogative pronouns are involved (not in yes-no questions).

In languages written in the Latin alphabet, the question mark (or, in the case of Spanish, a pair of them) identifies questions orthographically.

Questions and answers

The simplest questions implicitly or explicitly request information from a certain range (finite or infinite) of alternatives. When information purporting to be that requested is presented back to the questioner, the question is said to be answered. The information thus presented is called an answer. Answers may be right or wrong. They are wrong if they present false information. If they present information from outside the proferred alternatives, they may be called wrong or simply inappropriate or irrelevant. This depends on the context, as do several other possibilities: Sometimes "I don't know" is an acceptable answer, sometimes even a right answer. The same is true of "None of the above" and "There is no answer." An answer is the, or a, right answer, if it presents true information which falls within the determined range of alternatives. Questions of this simplest sort usually begin with Who, what, which, where, when, does/do, is/are.

Other questions do not so easily fit this mold. For example, questions beginning "Why" and "How" often request any information at all that will alleviate certain confusion in a person who wants to ask that question. Here the manner in which the information is presented might be more important than which information is presented; the questioner may even already know all of the information contained in the right answer, and merely needs it to be expressed in a more useful form.

Ultimately, the interregotive pronouns (those beginning wh... in addition to the word how), derive from the Indo European root Xwa, which in germanic languages softened to hwa, and in latin and romance languages (e.g. spanish) hardened to que. In English, a typographical error in copying by a series of monks is responsible for the transposition of the h and w, although Received Pronunciation still preserves the original sound (i.e. hw... rather than wh...). Who (and its dative - whom, genitive - whose, instrumental - why, neuter - what, and neuter dative - where) derive from hwa directly (and its other cases - hwaem, hwaes, hwi, hwaet, and hwaer). Which is a compound - hwa and (ge)lik, meaning what like.


Questions are used from the most elementary stage of learning to original research. In the scientific method, a question often forms the basis of the investigation and can be considered a transition between the observation and hypothesis stages. Students of all ages use questions in their learning of topics, and the skill of having learners creating "investigatable" questions is a central part of inquiry education. The Socratic method of questioning student responses may be used by a teacher to lead the student towards the truth without direct instruction, and also helps students to form logical conclusions.

See also

The Logic of Questions and Answers (1976), by Nuel D. Belnap and Thomas B. Steele.

de:Frage eo:Demando sv:Fråga zh:问题


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