I am aware that answering student questions with further, leading questions is sometimes dubbed “Socratic,” but I am asking more broadly about all occasions where someone asks a question and, instead of an answer, receives another question in response. Has a word ever been coined to name this phenomenon?

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    Someone wrote to Ann Landers, asking why Jews always answer a question with another question. Landers, born Esther Friedman, replied, "Why not?" May 11, 2011 at 19:21
  • A more idiomatic say it might be to use the phrase "Let me answer that by asking you this." See Brian Regan - Standing Up - Part 3, at time 6:50.
    – Joey Adams
    May 11, 2011 at 19:49
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    Have you read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, by Tom Stoppard, specifically the scenes where they play the game of Questions? May 11, 2011 at 20:54
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    I don't know, what do you think ?
    – user8465
    May 11, 2011 at 21:19
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    I have learned that the only way to fully understand a mans struggle is to walk a mile in his shoes; so sometime the only way to have someone fully understand the answer to a question is to see the question through the eyes of someone who has found the answer. Wisdom cannot be taught but only learned.
    – user85667
    Jul 21, 2014 at 2:08

3 Answers 3


This method of answering questions with questions, in order to let the questioner realize that he can find the answer by reasoning (Socrates would say that the answer was in him all along), is called maieutics (the related adjective being maieutic).

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    Oh, very nice! Just what I was hoping for: a real word, not a hyphenated coinage. Let me ponder for a few hours, though, about whether this nice word is satisfactory, or whether its semantic range is a bit too narrow; sometimes people answer a question with another question not because they believe in the other person's innate wisdom, but because they want to evade a straight answer, or even to violently challenge the premises — or right — of the questioner to ask the question. It would be nice to have a word that also covered more strident reasons for answering a question with a question. May 11, 2011 at 19:45
  • It's worth noting that the word is derived from the Greek root maia, meaning midwife.
    – senderle
    May 11, 2011 at 20:33
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    @senderle: and as such, the only other English word I can find that shares this root is May :)
    – F'x
    May 11, 2011 at 20:37

Such a question can be called a counter-question, but I do not believe there is an English word for actually posing such a question. You could make one up, such as "counter-questioning". That should be understood, at least.

  • Counter-question is on the OED (attested from 1864), and Wiktionary. Jul 24, 2017 at 4:59

Is it not true that counter-question is a good match that describes the exact structure that you inquire about? Can you have a counter-question without an initial question?

Also, wouldn't you agree, though it might be obvious, that the second question (the answering question) is called a rhetorical question?

Out of numerous figures that are are related to this type of address, if I use for example interrogatio and question my own answer, preferably with more style than I employ, am I not actually confirming and reinforcing the answer that I have given?

Other figures are: erotema, anacoenosis, anthypophora, dianoea, aporia, epiplexis, exuscitatio, pysma and ratiocinatio and some of them cover exactly the meaning that you mention in comments: challenging the initial question.

In case that the second question is not a rhetorical question, but a real question that is raised by the first question then I would say you are simply investigating the subject in search for stasis (and the term counter-question still covers it).

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