A question is an utterance which typically functions as a request for information, which is expected to be provided in the form of an answer. Questions can thus be understood as a kind of illocutionary act in the field of pragmatics or as special kinds of propositions in frameworks of formal semantics such as alternative semantics or inquisitive semantics. Questions are often conflated with interrogatives, which are the grammatical forms typically used to achieve them. Rhetorical questions, for example, are interrogative in form but may not be considered true questions as they aren't expected to be answered. Conversely, non-interrogative grammatical structures may be considered questions as in the case of the imperative sentence "tell me your name".
UsesThe principal use of questions is to elicit information from the person being addressed by indicating the information which the speaker desires. However, questions can also be used for a number of other purposes. Questions may be asked for the purpose of testing someone's knowledge, as in a quiz or examination. These are termed display questions. Raising a question may guide the questioner along an avenue of research.
A research question is an interrogative statement that manifests the objective or line of scholarly or scientific inquiry designed to address a specific gap in knowledge. Research questions are expressed in a language that is appropriate for the academic community that has the greatest interest in answers that would address said gap. These interrogative statements serve as launching points for the academic pursuit of new knowledge by directing and delimiting an investigation of a topic, a set of studies, or an entire program of research.
A rhetorical question is asked to make a point, and doesn't expect an answer. As such, it isn't a true question. Similarly, requests for things other than information, as with "Would you pass the salt?" are interrogative in form, but aren't true questions.
Pre-suppositional or loaded 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 used as titles of works of literature, art and scholarship. Examples include Leo Tolstoy's short story How Much Land Does a Man Need?, the painting And When Did You Last See Your Father?, the movie What About Bob?, and the academic work Who Asked the First Question?
By purposeVarious categorizations of questions have been proposed. With regard to research projects, one system distinguishes:
- descriptive questions, used primarily with the aim of describing the existence of some thing or process
- relational questions, designed to look at the relationships between two or more variables
- causal questions, designed to determine whether certain variables affect one or more outcome variables
Some types of questions that may be used in an educational context are listed in Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives. These include questions designed to test and promote:
- Knowledge: Who, what, when, where, why, how . . . ? Describe . . . ?
- Comprehension: Retell . . .
- Application: How is . . . an example of . . . ?; How is . . . related to . . . ?; Why is . . . significant?
- Analysis: What are the parts or features of . . . ? Classify . . . according to . . . ;
- Synthesis: 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 . . . ?
- Evaluation: 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 . . . ?
Strategic studies also have taken into consideration the questioning process. In Humint, a taxonomy of questions includes:
- Direct questions: basic questions normally beginning with an interrogative and requiring a narrative answer. They are brief, precise, and simply worded to avoid confusion.
- Initial questions: directed toward obtaining the basic information on the topic. In other words, they are the "who, what, where, when, how, and why" of each topic.
- Follow-up questions: used to expand on and complete the information obtained from the initial questions.
- Nonpertinent questions: questions that don't pertain to the collection objectives. They are used to conceal the collection objectives or to strengthen rapport with the source.
- Repeat questions: ask the source for the same information obtained in response to earlier questions.
- Control questions: developed from recently confirmed information from other sources that is not likely to have changed.
- Prepared questions developed by the HUMINT collector, normally in writing, prior to the questioning.
- Prepared questions: used primarily when dealing with information of a technical nature or specific topic.
- Negative questions: questions that contain a negative word in the question itself such as, "Didn't you go to the pick-up point?"
- Compound questions: consist of two questions asked at the same time; for example, "Where were you going after work and who were you to meet there?"
- Vague questions: don't have enough information for the source to understand exactly what the HUMINT collector is asking. They may be incomplete, general, or otherwise nonspecific.
- Elicitation: is the gaining of information through direct interaction with a human source where the source isn't aware of the specific purpose for the conversation.
- Softball question: question on easy, not serious or not important topic
- Hardball question: confronting question, pressing the answerer to explain e.g. inconsistencies or discrepancies with their previous stances
- Gotcha question
By grammatical form
A type of question that is similar in form to a yes–no question, but is not intended to be answered with a "yes" or "no", is the alternative question. This presents two or more alternative answers, as in "Do you want fish or lamb?", or "Are you supporting England, Ireland or Wales?" The expected response is one of the alternatives, or some other indication such as "both" or "neither". Because of their similarity in form to yes–no questions, they may sometimes be answered "yes" or "no", possibly humorously or as a result of misunderstanding.
The other main type of question is those called wh-questions. These use interrogative words such as when, which, who, how, etc. to specify the information that is desired. The name derives from the fact that most of the English interrogative words begin with the letters wh. These are the types of question sometimes referred to in journalism and other investigative contexts as the Five Ws.
Tag questions are a grammatical structure in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment, such as right in "You remembered the eggs, right?", or isn't it in "It's cold today, isn't it?" Tag questions may or may not be answerable with a yes or no.
As well as direct questions, there also exist indirect questions, such as where my keys are. These are used as subordinate clauses in sentences such as "I wonder where my keys are" and "Ask him where my keys are." Indirect questions do not necessarily follow the same rules of grammar as direct questions. For example, in English and some other languages, indirect questions are formed without inversion of subject and verb. Indirect questions may also be subject to the changes of tense and other changes that apply generally to indirect speech.
GrammarLanguages may use both syntax and prosody to distinguish interrogative sentences from declarative sentences. Syntax refers to grammatical changes, such as moving words around or adding question words; prosody refers here to changes in intonation while speaking.
In English, German, French and various other languages, questions are marked by a distinct word order featuring inversion – the subject is placed after the verb rather than before it: "You are cold" becomes "Are you cold?" However, English allows such inversion only with a particular class of verbs, and thus sometimes requires the addition of an auxiliary do, does or did before inversion can take place – for details see do-support.
In some languages, yes–no questions are marked by an interrogative particle, such as the Japanese か ka, Mandarin 吗 ma and Polish czy. Also, in languages generally, wh-questions are marked by an interrogative word such as what, where or how. In languages such as English this word generally moves to the front of the sentence, and subject–verb inversion occurs as in yes–no questions, but in some other languages these changes in word order are not necessary.
Intonation patterns characteristic of questions often involve a raised pitch near the end of the sentence. In English this occurs especially for yes–no questions; it may also be used for sentences that do not have the grammatical form of questions, but are nonetheless intended to elicit information, as in "You're not using this?"
In languages written in Latin, Cyrillic or certain other scripts, a question mark at the end of a sentence identifies questions in writing. As with intonation, this feature is not restricted to sentences having the grammatical form of questions – it may also indicate a sentence's pragmatic function.
ResponsesThe most typical response to a question is an answer that provides the information indicated as being sought by the questioner. This may range from a simple yes or no to a more complex or detailed answer. An indication of inability or unwillingness to provide an answer is the other response to a question.
"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?" and "Don't you have a passport?" are properly answered with "No", despite apparently asking opposite questions. The Japanese and Korean languages avoid this ambiguity. Answering "No" to the second of these in Japanese or Korean would mean, "I do have a passport".
A similar ambiguous question in English is "Do you mind if...?" The responder may reply unambiguously "Yes, I do mind," if they do mind, or "No, I don't mind," if they don't, but a simple "No" or "Yes" answer can lead to confusion, as a single "No" can seem like a "Yes, I do mind", and a "Yes" can seem like a "No, I don't mind". 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 to answer negative questions in an affirmative way; they provide a means to express contradiction.
In the interest of precise language, a direct answer has been defined:
"A direct answer to a given question is a piece of language that completely, but just completely, answers the question...What is crucial is that it be effectively decidable whether a piece of language is a direct answer to a specific question." and "To each clear question there corresponds a set of statements which are directly responsive.... A direct answer must provide an unarguably final resolution of the question."
More information on these issues can be found in the articles yes–no question, yes and no, and answer ellipsis.
LearningQuestions 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.
Philosophyquestions 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 Māori and Pākehā 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 "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. Every question implies a statement and every statement implies a question.