e.g. Are you awake? (to somebody who appears to be asleep, but for which any given reply will confirm wakefulness)

  • 'Do you read me?' questions? – Edwin Ashworth Jul 25 '14 at 8:29
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    I doubt there's a specific name for this question category because there is no category. The only question that falls into it is "are you alive, conscious, and able to speak". There are of course any number of ways you can ask that in, including yours, but it's still just one question. – RegDwigнt Jul 25 '14 at 9:12
  • "Do you read me?" questions look similar Edwin.. i.e. "Agent 511, do you copy?" can only be confirmed by any given response. The nearest analogy I could think of was a computer 'ping' message designed only to check that a destination is present but not to convey any message data. – hkscy Jul 25 '14 at 9:18
  • I disagree with the definition. If you ask me whether I'm sleeping and I reply, there is a chance I'm talking in my sleep, although you may take it as a confirmation of my wakefulness. Similarly, after asking someone over the radio if they can hear you, they might coincidentally attempt to speak to you. If their phrasing doesn't betray the truth, you could mistake it for a reply. To me, it seems like these questions admit answers that can only confirm the hypothesis (and sometimes falsely confirm). The only way to refute it is not to reply at all. – Guybrush Threepwood Jul 25 '14 at 12:47

The book "The Syntactic Phenomena of English" (By James D. McCawley) mentions this type of question under alternative question type but also adds that it is a yes-no question with an exception.

But more explicitly, the question is described as "the act of answering provides the answer".

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But you can treat this question as any closed-ended question also because in general, the answer is limited to "yes" or "no". The answer "no" could be sarcastic and could simply mean "yes". If there is no answer (or if there is a sleepy answer), it means the person is asleep, then you might have the desired information as well.


It's a fallacy called false dilemma.

  • I don't think that you're correct. Can you provide any evidence that that term has been applied to this type of question? – curiousdannii Jul 26 '14 at 5:54

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