A question may be either a linguistic expression used to make a request for information, or else the request itself made by such an expression. This information is provided with an answer.
Questions are normally put or asked using interrogative sentences. But they can also be put by imperative sentences, which normally express commands: "Tell me what 2 + 2 is"; conversely, some expressions, such as "Would you pass the butter?", have the grammatical form of questions but actually function as requests for action, not for answers. (A phrase such as this could, theoretically, also be viewed not merely as a request but as an observation of the other person's desire to comply with the request given.)
Varieties of questions
Questions have a number of uses. 'Raising a question' may guide the questioner along an avenue of research
(see Socratic method
). A rhetorical question
is asked in order to make a point, and does not expect an answer (often the answer is implied or obvious). Pre-suppositional questions, such as "Have you stopped beating your wife?" may be used as a joke or to embarrass an 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?
). McKenzie lists 17 types of questions in his "Questioning Toolkit"
and suggests that thinkers must orchestrate and combine these types in his article "Punchy Question Combinations"
Examples of his question types include the irreverent question
, the apparently irrelevant question
, the hypothetical question
and the unanswerable question
- Descriptive question, used primarily to describe the existence of some thing or process.
- Relational question, designed to look at the relationships between two or more variables.
- Causal question, designed to determine whether one or more variables causes or affects one or more outcome variables.
In surveys (there are a few types of questions)
- Dichotomous questions, usually these questions require yes/no answers or require a person to answer by choosing an option(s) from a multiple choice of possible answers.
- Nominal questions, these types of questions are designed to inquire about a level of quantitative measure. Usually these questions form correlations between a number and a concept. For example:
- Qualifying questions (a.k.a. filter questions, or contingency questions) These types of questions are designed to determine if the individual answering the question needs to continue on to answer subsequential questions.
Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Categories of questions)
who, what, when, where, how..? Describe...?
How is...an example of...?; how is...related to...?; why is...significant?
What are the parts or features of...? Classify...according to...;
what would you infer from...? What ideas can you add to...? How would you design a new..? What would happen if you combined...? What solutions would you suggest for...?
do you agree that...? What do you think about?...What is the most important..? Place the following in order of priority...? How would you decide about...? What criteria would you use to assess...?
, most languages distinguish interrogative sentences, which 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) and the tonal pattern for common questions, but resorts to just raising the tone while 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 Chinese, the word order remains the same for questions as for statements, with the particle added to create a wh-interrogative in situ.
In languages written in the Latin alphabet or Cyrillic alphabet, a question mark at the end of the sentence identifies questions orthographically. In Spanish, an additional mark is placed at the beginning (e.g. ¿Cómo está usted?).
"Negative questions," are interrogative sentences which contain negation in their phrasing, such as "Shouldn't you be working?". These can have different ways of expressing affirmation and denial from the standard form of question, and they can be confusing, since it is sometimes unclear whether the answer should be the opposite of the answer to the non-negated question. For example, if one does not have a passport, both "Do you have a passport?" "Don't you have a passport?" are properly answered with "No", despite apparently asking opposite questions. The Japanese language avoids this ambiguity. Answering "No" to the second of these in Japanese would mean, "I do have a passport".
A similar ambiguous question in English is "Do you mind if...?" If the responder does not reply unambiguously "Yes, I do mind," if they do, or "No, I don't mind," if they don't, a simple "No" or "Yes" answer can lead to confusion, as a single "No" can seem like a "Yes, I do mind," as in "No, please don't do that," and a "Yes" can seem like a "No, I don't mind," as in "Yes, go ahead." An easy way to bypass this confusion would be to ask a non-negative question, such as "Is it all right with you if...?"
Some languages have different particles (for example the French "si" and the German "doch") to answer negative questions (or negative statements) in an affirmative way.
There are three types of sentences in the English language where the predicate can come before the subject. An interrogative sentence is one such one.
Example: Did you pick the car up from the shop?
- Yes/no questions can be answered with a yes or no, hence the name.
- Wh-questions use interrogative words to request information. In some languages, wh-movement may be involved. They cannot be answered with a yes or no.
- Tag questions
- Tag questions are a grammatical structure in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment (the "tag"). Tag questions can be answered with a yes or no.
Questions and answers
The simplest questions implicitly or explicitly request information from a 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 correct
. They are incorrect if they present false information
. If they present information from outside the proffered 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 correct answer. The same is true of "None of the above" and "There is no answer." An answer is the, or a, correct answer, if it presents true
information which falls within the determined range of alternatives. Questions of this simplest sort usually begin with Who
Other questions do not so easily fit this mould. 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 interrogative pronouns (those beginning wh in addition to the word how), derive from the Proto-Indo-European root kwo- or kwi, the former of which was reflected in Proto-Germanic as xwa- or hwa-. The Proto-Indo-European root directly originated the Latin and Romance form qu- in words such as Latin quī ("which") and quando ("when"). In English, the gradual change of voiceless stops into voiceless fricatives (phase 1 of Grimm's law) during the development of Germanic languages is responsible for "wh-" of interrogatives. Although some varieties of Received Pronunciation and various Scottish dialects still preserve the original sound (i.e. [hw] rather than [w]), the majority only preserve the [w]. The words who, whom, whose, what and why, can all be considered to come from a single Old English word hwā, reflecting its masculine and feminine nominative (hwā), dative (hwām), genitive (hwæs), neuter nominative (hwæt), and instrumental of all genders (hwȳ, later hwī) respectively. Other interrogative words, such as which, how, where, as well as the now archaic whither derive either from compounds (which coming from a compound of hwā [what, who] and lic [like]), or other words from the same root (how deriving from ''hū).
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.
A widespread and accepted use of questions in an educational context is the assessment of students' knowledge through exams.
The philosophical questions are conceptual, not factual questions. There are questions that are not fully answered by any other. Philosophy deals with questions that arise when people reflect on their lives and their world. Some philosophical questions are practical: for example, 'Is euthanasia justifiable?', 'Does the state have the right to censor pornography or restrict tobacco advertising?', 'To what extent are Mäori and Päkehä today responsible for decisions made by their ancestors?'. Other philosophical questions are more theoretical, although they often arise through thinking about practical issues. The questions just listed, for example, may prompt more general philosophical questions about the circumstances under which it may be morally justifiable to take a life, or about the extent to which the state may restrict the liberty of the individual. Some fascinating, 'classic', questions of Philosophy are speculative and theoretical and concern the nature of knowledge, reality and human existence: for example, 'What, if anything, can be known with certainty?', 'Is the mind essentially non-physical?', 'Are values absolute or relative?', 'Does the universe need explanation in terms of a Supreme Intelligence?', 'What, if anything, is the meaning or purpose of human existence?'Finally, the philosophical questions are typically about conceptual issues; they are often questions about our concepts and the relation between our concepts and the world they represent.
- C. L. Hamblin, "Questions", in: Paul Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Georg Stahl, "Un développement de la logique des questions", in: Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger 88 (1963), 293-301.
- Fieser, James , Lillegard, Norman (eds), Philosophical questions : readings and interactive guides, 2005.
- McKenzie, Jamie, Leading questions: FNO Press, 2007.
- McKenzie, Jamie, Learning to question to wonder to learn: FNO Press, 2005.
- McKenzie, Jamie, "The Question Mark"
- Muratta Bunsen, Eduardo, "Lo erotico en la pregunta", in: Aletheia 5 (1999), 65-74.
- Smith, Joseph Wayne, Essays on ultimate questions: critical discussions of the limits of contemporary philosophical inquiry, Aldershot: Avebury, 1988.
- Berti, Enrico, Soggetti di responsabilita: questioni di filosofia pratica, Reggio Emilia, 1993.