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What is the difference between a question and a query? It seems that in certain circumstances, the words are interchangeable:

I have one further question.

I have one further query.

But, other times they are not:

The police officer questioned the man.

The police officer queried the man.

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9 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Oxford online says:

Query

noun (plural queries)

a question, especially one expressing doubt or requesting information:
if you have any queries please telephone our office

[...]

verb (queries, querying, queried)

[reporting verb]
ask a question about something, especially in order to express one's doubts about it or to check its validity or accuracy

[...]

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Do you have an example of a question which is not a query? –  Theta30 Jul 22 '13 at 3:25
    
@Theta30, the question is whether one really has to look very far to find a question that’s not a query. ;-) –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 22 '13 at 9:02
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Query noun

-1. a question, esp one expressing doubt, uncertainty, or an objection
-2. a less common name for question mark

verb

-3. to express uncertainty, doubt, or an objection concerning (something)
-4. to express as a query ⇒ ""What's up now?" she queried"
-5. (US) to put a question to (a person); ask

Question noun (The first five uses are listed but there are a total of fifteen.)

-1. a form of words addressed to a person in order to elicit information or evoke a response; interrogative sentence
-2. a point at issue ⇒ "it's only a question of time until she dies",
-3. a difficulty or uncertainty; doubtful point ⇒ "a question of money", "there's no question about it"
-4. (a) an act of asking (b) an investigation into some problem or difficulty
-5. a motion presented for debate by a deliberative body

verb

-16. to put a question or questions to (a person); interrogate
-17. to make (something) the subject of dispute or disagreement
-18. to express uncertainty about the validity, truth, etc, of (something); doubt

Differences between question and query as nouns

  • You ask a question. NOT You ask a *query. (*incorrect)
  • You submit a query.
  • You answer a question. NOT You answer a *query
  • There are 10 multiple-choice questions on the exam. NOT There are 10 multiple-choice *queries on the exam
  • How to write a query letter. NOT How to write a *question letter.
  • We regret that we cannot deal with queries on individual cases. (formal)
  • An exam/test question. NOT An exam/test *query
  • He popped the question (make a proposal of marriage). NOT He popped the *query

Some common collocations with question: - probing - direct - straight - difficult - personal - loaded - rhetorical - controversial - awkward - embarrassing - inane - silly - tricky

Some common collocations with query: - specific - separate

When the nouns question and query are synonymous

  • If you have any questions/queries, please contact us.
  • You reply/respond to a question/query.
  • "I would like to put a question to the first speaker"(formal)
  • "I would like to put a query to the first speaker" (very formal)
  • Have you any questions/queries about what you're supposed to do?

Differences between question and query as verbs

Query is more formal and slightly outdated, and can be substituted with either question or the more common reporting verb, ask.

  • She queried whether three months was long enough.
  • "Any chance of a cup of tea?" he queried hopefully.
  • She asked/questioned whether three months was long enough.
  • "Any chance of a cup of tea?" he asked hopefully.

"He questioned hopefully" sounds a little odd to me, I doubt a native speaker would actually say this, although in the written form it might be possible.

Similarities between question and query as verbs

They are both transitive verbs and can sometimes be used interchangeably.

  • The police officer questioned him at some length.
  • The police officer queried him at some length
  • They questioned her motives.
  • They queried her motives.
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I guess you can also answer queries and questions and reply/respond to queries and questions. Furthermore you can submit queries and questions. You rather pose and raise questions but you'll find collocations with query in corpora as well. –  Em1 Jul 22 '13 at 11:00
    
Yes, you can respond and reply to questions. Thanks for pointing that out, I'll make an edit. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 22 '13 at 11:03
    
@Em1 I can't possibly illustrate all the nuances and differences between the two, i.e. you pose and raise questions; there are too many but many thanks for your comment. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 22 '13 at 11:11
    
Why the downvote? –  Mari-Lou A Aug 1 '13 at 15:10
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Questions are more informal, broad, random, and can often be off-topic or out of context, spiraling into more discussion and debate. You've heard the phrase "begging the question", but not "begging the query"... this sums up the notion that questions can open up a can of worms, whereas I've yet to experience a query being so chaotic.

A query can be the action (verb) of submitting a question (noun). Queries are also used in computing as instructions you submit to a database to get results. I agree with Preteesh in that queries are more technical and exact: You send a query, you get a result. My personal interpretation is that there is not much creative thought involved in delivering an answer to a query, but there can be in answering a question.

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A good description can be found in Use the right word by S.Hayakawa He says that "it is the seriousness of intent on the part of the person who poses a question that makes the question a query". Also, a query can be complex, thus implying creativity to be solved. But your first paragraph is very good. –  Theta30 Jul 27 '13 at 23:49
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Query implies an official/technical doubt or question, whereas Question implies general question or doubt.

Query is a subset of Question.

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This use of the word "doubt" as a synonym of question is mainly limited to Indian English. In other English speaking regions it would be regarded as an error. –  RedGrittyBrick May 4 '11 at 9:59
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In general usage, I would say that when you have a query about something, you're not quite sure whether your question is a question or not, or what the actual question is, as distinct from those occasions when you know what the question is, but you don't know what the answer to it is. Someone may say something for instance, that you may feel the need to query, because you sense there's something about it that's not quite right, but you don't know precisely what it is.

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In situations like this and many others, I recommend you compare the etymology of the words, even if this "only" will give you the history of the words and not necessarily the current, modern meaning. There are so many words in English which have their roots in French, Latin etc. In the case of query vs question, they both seem to originate from the same meaning (in Latin):

"question" is derived from Anglo-French questiun, Old French question question, "difficulty, problem; legal inquest, interrogation, torture" from Latin quaestionem (nominative quaestio) "a seeking, a questioning, inquiry, examining, judicial investigation" noun of action from past participle stem of quaerere "ask, seek".

"query" originates in Latin quaere "ask," imperative of quaerere. (see above)

My interpretation/guess: perhaps "question" is closer to the noun-form, while "query" is closer to the verb, even if both can be used as nouns/verbs.

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I like etymology but don't see how it explains the difference here –  Theta30 Jul 27 '13 at 23:38
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When you question something you are not always putting forth a query, but sometimes you are of polemical disposition.

Questioning the authoritarian laws of the state.

Whereas query invariably means an inquiry.

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A query is "a question that you ask because you want information or because you are not certain about something [Macmillan]."

Oxford defines a query more specifically than a question; a question is

a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information

while a query is

a question, especially one expressing doubt or requesting information [emphasis mine]

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Gotta love these "experts" who downvote a quote from a reputable dictionary. –  Gnawme Jul 24 '13 at 5:39
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I guess the downvote tells you that you haven't answered the question. Or was it a query? OP wanted to get information. OP was uncertain about that. It must be a query, isn't it? –  Em1 Jul 28 '13 at 11:59
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They have distinct meanings in computer science as well.

Whenever a computer sends a request for a small amount of information to another computer, it is a query, or a request when the amount of information is not small. For example, the ping command asks for a response of negligible length to confirm the existence of another computer; ping is a query. However, a computer asks for an entire file to be sent, it is described as a request.

Question is used only when a computer requires human input. Synonyms here are input and prompt.

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