Answering a question with a question is an annoying thing that some English speakers do. If you come across it, it might help you learn some synonyms that mean exactly that, without the long-winded description. This article will explain the best synonyms for that case.
Which Words Can Describe When People Answer A Question With Another Question?
There are a few words we want to talk about in this article, each one offering a different way to answer a question with another question.
- Rhetorical question
- Socratic answer
The preferred version is “counter-question” because it is the closest related word that answers a question with another question. We use them to try to find a different answer than the one we were previously asked about. “Rhetorical question” and “deflection” are also good choices.
We will start by looking into what a “counter-question” is and how we use it. If you’re familiar with the prefix word “counter,” you might already have a good idea.
A “counter-question” is something that “counters” (turns back on someone else) the previously asked question. We usually ask them by approaching the same topic as the original question but in a different manner or expecting a different answer.
It’s common for many speakers to come up with counter-questions when they’re not happy answering the previous one. Whether they don’t know the answer, or they think it’s too personal, a counter-question is a good way of turning the spotlight around on the original asker.
Many native speakers also understand the meaning of “counter-question.” Even if they haven’t heard the word before, it’s easy to work out from context since the word “counter” is so familiar to many native English speakers.
It might help you to see some examples of using “counter-question” in a sentence, as well as how they might work in practice.
- Have you got the answer to this question?
- Counter-question. Do you think you know the answer yourself?
- Sir, why don’t I have higher wages for what I do?
- As a counter-question, why do you think you deserve higher wages?
- Can we discuss what we are with each other?
- Counter-question, what do you want for dinner tonight? I’m hungry.
The next best option is “rhetorical question.” It’s common for many English speakers to refer to a question answering a question as a rhetorical question, so you can expect many of them to understand it.
A “rhetorical question” is a question that doesn’t need an answer. It’s possible to answer a question with a rhetorical question when you don’t expect an answer in response to your own question.
Because you don’t expect a response, it’s likely that the rhetorical question you ask is rude or shocking, and the other person isn’t comfortable answering it when it’s asked.
You’ll hear the phrase “rhetorical question” a lot, which makes it one of the more viable candidates in the list of synonyms for questions that answer questions.
Here are some cases you might see where rhetorical questions work well:
- Do you know what you’re talking about?
- Do you think I know?
- That’s an annoying rhetorical question to ask.
- Have you any ideas?
- Have you known me to have many ideas before?
- Stop with the rhetorical questions.
- Are you available tonight?
- Do I have to do things tonight?
- That’s why I asked. Don’t give me a rhetorical question like that.
A deflection is something that we can throw at somebody when we want to avoid answering the question. It doesn’t always need to be a question, but it’s possible to write it as one in this case.
“Deflections” means we ask another question to avoid answering the previous one. Usually, we “deflect” a question with a question when we’re not comfortable with the personal level that the question is trying to invade upon.
Again, “deflections” aren’t always questions, which is what makes them so well-rounded to be on this list. However, in this instance, we might answer a question with a question if we want to show the original asker how personal their question was.
It’s usually very obvious when you “deflect” a question. Typically, the original asker will know that you’re trying to stop yourself from answering because you’re uncomfortable. From there, they might press harder, or they might back off, depending on what the question was.
Deflection might look like this:
- Do you have time to talk today?
- Do I look like I have time?
- There was no need for that deflection.
- Are you doing okay?
- Have you seen my new toy?
- Don’t deflect. Answer me honestly.
- Do you need any help from me?
- You should visit the lakes. Do you like lakes?
- Don’t come at me with that deflection! I’m here to help you.
The next word is something that not many native speakers know about. It’s got deep ties to philosophy and historical practices, which is why we don’t include it higher in this list.
“Maieutics” is the name given to the Socratic method (philosophical method) of answering questions with thought-provoking questions, expecting answers to come from within.
If you believe in the philosophical style of asking questions to find answers, you might believe in maieutics and how they work. Socrates was the first to come up with this idea, which is why they’re a Socratic method of sorts.
Usually, maieutics is profound and asks a new question to the original asker to find out how they view the world or something within it. It causes them to forget about their original question and ponder the what-ifs of their own life instead.
These are some examples of good ways to use maieutics:
- Have you given yourself to God?
- What is God to you?
- That’s maieutic if I ever heard one. Let me think.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Aren’t we all heading down the same path inevitably?
- I see you’ve been studying maieutics.
- Can I help you?
- Are you able to tell me why we’re here? Why do any of us even exist?
- Okay, I don’t have time for your maieutics today.
Finally, we might hear “Socratic answer” as an option to answer a question with a question. It’s simply an extension on maieutics, and it uses more familiar terminology to explain them.
“Socratic answers” are questions that ponder the more intense things in life. They’re profound and full of emotion, designed to get the asker to think hard about their answer.
“Socratic answers” and “maieutics” are synonymous. We can use either of them interchangeably to the same degree, so it’s up to you which one you think is easier.
Here are a few more examples of using them:
- Is this everything?
- Isn’t everything already within you?
- Can I see that?
- That depends. Are your eyes wise enough to comprehend?
- I hate Socratic answers.
Examples Of Answering A Question With Another Question
We’ve covered the best words for answering a question with another question, and we’ve provided some examples too. However, we thought it might help to dedicate a section specifically to a group of examples that you can pick and choose from.
A counter-question might simply be used to look for more information:
- Can I help you?
- Do you sell anything here?
- Are you free?
- When do you need me?
A rhetorical question or deflection might be used to try and avoid answering a question:
- Where are you going?
- Wouldn’t you like to know?
- Is this all you have?
- Do you like muffins?
Socratic answers and maieutics are the best ways to confuse the original asker and have them ponder a deeper thought, which gets them to forget about their original question:
- Where are we?
- Isn’t that question invalid when you think about it on the scale of the universe?
- Why would you do that?
- Why would anyone do anything worth anything?
Is It Appropriate To Answer A Question With A Question?
Generally, people don’t like their questions to be answered with another question. In most cases, you’ll find that people think it’s rude, especially if it’s obvious that you’re trying to deflect from opening yourself up to answer the original question.
Answering a question with a question is usually rude. If you don’t want to answer the question, you don’t have to say anything. People believe it’s quite pretentious if you answer a question with a question.
The only case where it might be acceptable is when you walk into a shop, and the following is asked:
- Can I help you?
From there, we can usually ask a question to gather more information, and this is socially acceptable:
- Do you have any new products?
Most people are used to this kind of exchange, which is why it works well.
Why Do People Answer A Question With A Question?
Most people answer a question with a question when they’re not comfortable responding to the original question. If they don’t have an answer already or if they don’t know what to say, then they might deflect the question and get the asker to answer something instead.
You may also like: 11 Words For Someone Who Avoids Answering Questions
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.