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Does a discussion among two or more people have to have a certain amount of words or sentences or people involved? I'm interested in both the technically correct definition and the way people use the word.

I always thought that every person said to be involved in the discussion must speak more than one sentence for it to be considered a discussion. Is this right or could a person asking a question and another replying constitute a discussion?

The dictionary definitions I read didn't say anything about length. This is why I ask about common use. I presume most people would agree one person saying to another "we need more chairs" without the other person giving a response, is not a discussion, though it seems to fit the dictionary definition.

Edit: so then where is the distinction between speech and discussion or a speech with a question period at the end? For example in school you wouldn't say a class is a discusion with the teacher just because the students have the opertunity to ask a question.

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    One can be silent and still be considered involved in the discussion, particularly in a large meeting. If I said, "The team had a discussion about strategy before taking the field," I can't imagine someone correcting me, and saying, "No, only nine of the players were involved in the discussion. The other two didn't say anything." And, yes, a discussion can be as short as one question and one brief answer. Again, if I said, "My boss and I discussed this yesterday," I can't imagine being corrected by someone, saying: "You just asked a question and got a quick answer. That's not a discussion." – J.R. Nov 7 '13 at 11:13
  • It doesn't matter what "always thought" -- what do the dictionaries say? It's necessary to cite the sources of your information before carrying the question further. – Kris Nov 7 '13 at 13:03
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    an extended communication (WordNet 3.0 <- thefreedictionary.com/discussion); However, a 'discussion' may technically be concluded with one word from one party if that serves the whole purpose: "No. [End of discussion.]" – Kris Nov 7 '13 at 13:07
  • Often there is no firm distinction between various words with overlapping meanings. When does a mound become a hill? a hill a mountain? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 8 '14 at 17:58
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A discussion is technically any sort of communication between two or more parties. The strict dictionary definition:

discussion — talk between people: a talk between two or more people about a subject, usually to exchange ideas or reach a conclusion, or talk of this kind

As far as any implied length, common usage mostly dictates that a certain amount of information is conveyed during the discussion. This means you can have an entire discussion using non-verbal communication (such as hand gestures or facial tics) even if no words are ever spoken.

The real distinction between a discussion or a "talk" or "speech" is that there is input from more than one person or side. For example, if a parent spends a half hour chastising their child it isn't really a discussion since the child isn't doing any communicating.

Another key point is that there is a topic of discussion and, typically, everyone involved in the discussion will all be joining in on the same topic.

Therefore, put simply, it is a discussion if:

  • Two or more sources of communication are present
  • The sources are all contributing to the discussion
  • There is a common topic

All of that being said, there are a few notable exceptions. You can, technically, discuss something with yourself as long as you are playing the role of two different participants. This sort of back and forth is very common when someone is struggling between two difficult choices: One "side" will argue for one way; the other "side" will argue for the other way. But both "sides" belong to the same speaker.

Another exception is that people will often have a "discussion" with animals or inanimate objects. The trick, here, is that the person is treating the object as if it could understand them and participate — even though they know it isn't true. This isn't technically a discussion but the person treats it as one so we jokingly refer to it as a discussion.

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A discussion essay requires the author to discuss both sides of a topic. In conversation this is not different, but the participants may be more than one. I am curious if a monologue can qualify as a discussion though if it fulfills the above requirements. Since you asked how people use the word I would answer exactly that. As long people have opposing sides of a topic and they are attempting to prove their point, it is a discussion.

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    Neither two opposing parties nor two opposing perspectives are essential for a 'discussion'. "the book contains an excellent discussion of modal logic" (WordNet 3.0 <- thefreedictionary.com/discussion) – Kris Nov 7 '13 at 13:09

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