This sort of question He's right behind me, isn't he? is popular on comedy TV shows.

It's usually said by somebody just after they've been poking fun or talking badly about someone to group of other people. The group of people are all laughing at the butt of the joke/abuse and then fall silent. At this point the ringleader notices that the group has gone quiet and asks He's [the person being made fun of] is right behind me, isn't he?

It's not exactly a rhetorical question because the ringleader doesn't know for sure but they are very confident that the answer is yes.

I am asking if there is an English grammatical or linguistic categorization for this type of question. I'm not asking about the use of this type of question on TV or film or stage.

I now know what a tag question is, and this is a tag question but I would like to know if it also another type of question

It is very close to a rhetorical question but it isn't because it does matter what the person being asked replies.

I don't think it's a leading question because it's not really encouraging anyone to give either a yes or no answer that suits the person asking the question.

My question is: what category of question is this?

  • Your point here isn't about tag questions, is it?
    – Neeku
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:37
  • I think maybe his example and possibly other examples of this type of question are indeed tag questions but I don't think it's what he's asking about.
    – user85526
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:39
  • No, it's the entire question, to which the answer is expected to be Yes, and which hardly needs to be asked.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:40
  • In Britain I think we would call it a 'pantomime line'. It closely resembles the 'Oh, yes you did', 'Oh no I didn't' exchange that pantomime characters have with an audience of children.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:41
  • I had to look up what a tag question was! Ha! Blonde! It does look like it is a tag question but what I mean is like what Andrew Leach has said. It's a question that is almost rhetorical and hardly needs to be asked but isn't 100% rhetorical because the person asking doesn't know the answer for sure. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


The answer to what type if question this is, in the sense that you are asking it, depends on how much information related to the answer the asker has.

If the asker has little information then this can be considered a closed, factual question.

If the asker has enough information that he should be able to surmise the answer this could be a rhetorical question.

Using the example above of a sitcom, if the speaker is speaking to one other person, and that person's face suddenly looks surprised while looking in a direction behind the speaker, that's probably not enough information to make the question rhetorical, so it's a simple closed, factual question.

If, on the other hand, the person listening puts one hand over his mouth, and with the other points rapidly over the speaker's shoulder, or, alternatively, if the person being spoken about let's out a loud "harrumph" then either of these could be enough information to make the question rhetorical.

  • That's a good explanation, so there isn't a category for 'nearly' rhetorical questions? Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 18:54

Really, I would just say it's a "comedy cliché".

It's a bromide - a very obvious joke that you see repeated word-for-word, very often, on many shows.

It's a good question, whether in the comedy industry there's a specific term for that sort of thing - but I'd just call it a cliché or an old joke or a "really worn-out line".

Maybe there's something like a "standard", "standard joke," an "old standard" perhaps.

  • It is a comedy cliche but I'm asking about that type of question in English like a leading question or a rhetorical question, not the term used for it in show business. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:07
  • Ok ... I feel it is a rhetorical question, actually. (The fact that there's a slight chance the person 'is not there' is irrelevant. Any rhetorical question, there's a slight chance it's false.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:08
  • I thought rhetorical questions were answered by the person asking the question who will totally ignore what the person answering actually says but I see what you mean, it is so nearly a rhetorical question but not. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:41
  • Tee OP is looking for a term for cliches that are particularly like the one described, not all cliches (for which 'cliche' is appropriate).
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:45

It seems to me to be a statement followed by a question that is asking for agreement. So, by asking for agreement, the speaker acknowledges having enough information to believe the statement is true, making it rhetorical.

  • Welcome to ELU. Please consider that ELU strives to provide objective answers, yours doesn't provide any sources.Have a look at the help center to find out about good answers.
    – Helmar
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 10:52

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