Some might say that the "question" is that which you "reply" to. However, when I "post" something I also get "replies". Thus, if I am the reply, is there a general word for the thing that I am the reply to?

To clarify, the gist of what I'm trying to say is something like: "These writings can have pair wise relationships with other writings. In these relationships they can either be the reply or the ________."

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    Reply is generic, and generally assumes that the method or form of the reply matches what it is replying to. But the instigator (for want of a better term) which prompts the reply can be one of many forms, each of which has its own name. (I'm not proposing instigator as the answer. I don't believe there is a word which is commonly understood as "that which is replied to"; it certainly isn't the primary meaning of instigator.)
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 12, 2016 at 8:30
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    By the way, I think it would be more accurate to say that the thing you're looking for is the counterpart of a reply rather than the opposite of a reply.
    – user152004
    Jan 12, 2016 at 9:47
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    @JEL something along the lines of "These writings can have pair wise relationships with other writings. In these relationships they can either be the reply or the ________." Jan 28, 2016 at 23:13
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    I've updated the question with the better example sentence. Jan 29, 2016 at 5:46
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    Would response not be a better generic term than reply anyway? Otherwise I agree there doesn't seem to be a term for the thing that prompts the response that satisfactorily covers all scenarios.
    – Charl E
    Jan 29, 2016 at 6:17

6 Answers 6


The 'original post' (or opposite) to a reply may be a question, statement, reply, etc. However, what we want is something that describes the original post's function as the inverse (I'll call it a complement) of a reply, rather than the nature of the original post outside the context of a reply.

Motivated by Andrew Leach's comment to the main question, namely

... [that] which prompts the reply ...

I suggest prompt as the complement of reply.

The verb form includes the following definition:

Prompt verb : to say (something that encourages a person to talk) - M-W

Although the noun form is often defined in terms of acting (prompts for actors), the noun prompt can easily and naturally carry the sense of the thing that triggered the reply.

In the context of the OP's sample sentence, we then have:

These writings can have pair wise relationships with other writings. In these relationships they can either be the reply or the prompt.

  • I like Prompt , +1 , but it will not cover many cases , Eg Prompt encourages a reply, but even a frustrated teacher, when she discourages responses by saying "I want total silence in the classroom !", will get a reply from a snarky student "Shall I switch of the noisy fan ?". Moreover, a reply can also be a Prompt. Finally (because comments have to be short here) even silence can get a reply : teacher : "Did you finish your homework ?" ; student : silent ; teacher : "Why are you silent ? Speak up!" ; which is a "reply" to the silence, which is really not a Prompt.
    – Prem
    Feb 1, 2016 at 17:07
  • @Prem Thanks for your perspective. In your last example, if I asked what prompted the teacher's reply (or outburst), the answer would be the silence. Likewise for the other examples you cite. It's in this sense that prompt and reply make a complementary pair. You also said, "a reply can also be a Prompt". I agree - just as reactions can also be actions in the context of physical action-reaction relationships, the prompt for a reply could itself have been a reply to an earlier prompt.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 1, 2016 at 23:58

What is the opposite of a “reply”?
"These writings can have pair wise relationships with other writings. In these relationships they can either be the reply or the ________."

+1 for a valid question (not sure why others would want to downvote it)

Short answer : there is no specific word for opposite of reply in generalized communication. The best you can get is when you restrict to "questions/queries/requests" for which you get "responses/replies/answers".

Any correct opposite of generalized "reply" is going to be so generalized that it will be almost meaningless : In the most generalize view, action or event is the opposite of a reply or reaction.
Eg, you can reply to a question/query/request. You can also reply to a comment or a greeting. You can also reply to a reply ! You can also reply to an absence of a reply !

Consider this series of exchanges between X & Y & Z, where words in square brackets are informational :

X: Hello All. [ greeting ]
Y: Hello X. [ reply to greeting ? ]
X: I need help on topic ABC. [ not a question ; probably a request ; but surely a simple statement. Is it also a reply to Y ? ]
Y: Go on, I know about ABC. [ reply to request ? statement ? ]
X: Who invented ABC ? [ specific question ]
Y: It was invented by Z in 2013 [ specific reply ]
Z: Do not give wrong information about year of invention ! [ reply ? reaction ? ]
Y: Well, well, well ! I did not know that Z was in this group ! [ reply ? statement ? comment ? ]
X: Hey Z, you invented ABC, but 2013 is wrong. Which is the correct year ? [ specific question ]
X: Z, you there ? [ reply to ... what ? reply to absence of reply ? ]
Y: Hey X, given his geographical location, Z is probably sleeping now. You might get a reply tomorrow [ reply from Y, but question was for Z ]

Basically, there can be no logical pairing of [S,reply to S] where you want a word for S.
If the sequence is {S1,reply to S1,S2,reply to S2,...} then even [reply to S1,S2] is also a pairing, hence there can be no specific word for S.

In the most generalized view, every thing can be considered "an action or an event" and the response or the reply is the reaction, which is so generalized that it is almost meaningless.

I hope I have not converted this question into a philosophical issue of semantics, but would be happy to elaborate if any query is raised.


I'm going to step out of the box and go for:
Request-response pairs as defined for computer communication interchanges.

One of the basic methods computers use to communicate with each other, in which the first computer sends a request for some data and the second computer responds to the request.

While not strictly a linguistic answer I believe this correctly describes the phenomenon you are referring to.



The best choice may depend on the domain of use. In an academic or semi-academic environment, 'elicitation' might serve:

elicitation - stimulation that calls up (draws forth) a particular class of behaviors; "the elicitation of his testimony was not easy"

[elicitation. (n.d.) WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. (2003-2008). Retrieved January 30 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/elicitation ]

In domains with audiences less likely to favor three-dollar words, 'prompt' (or 'cue'), 'request', or 'stimulus', as suggested by other answers, might be better...depending on the larger context of use.

For my part, I think your choice depends a great deal on whether the 'thing that is replied to' is intended to elicit a reply, is neutral or indifferent to whether or not it elicits a reply, or other elements of the context. That is, if the 'thing that is replied to' is a 'request', that implies 'the thing that is replied to' actively seeks a reply; if the 'thing that is replied to' is a 'prompt', that has less of the force of intentionally seeking a reply, and more of the force of garnering replies by reason of the mere existence of the 'prompt'.

Other terms may be better. For example, 'stimulus', which might ordinarily be paired with 'response', could better convey the tight ("pair-wise") relationship of the 'reply' with the 'thing that is replied to' while remaining neutral with respect to the intentionality of the elicitation.


Looking at the context presented, I think that either "argument" or "assertion" make sense for a piece of writing to which its counterpart is a "reply." Depending on the nature of the instigating text, "proposition" might work.

There are good figurative synonyms, too. Consider "sally," for instance.


I'm going to propose that it's just a word that doesn't exist in English.

There are replies that are replies to questions, replies that are replies to arguments, replies that are replies to actions (in describing sports/war they will say things like "[the other team] replied with back-to-back touchdowns" or "the [other combatant] replied with a devastating volley of surface-to-surface missiles").

You are looking for a word pair along the lines of divisor and dividend (one thing does the dividing and one thing gets divided). If it existed it would be something like replicand [note: not a real word] that would be from the root word of reply and defined to mean "what was replied to".

Having said that, I think the closest we have is prompt--whatever it is, action, statement, question, whatever--it's what prompted the reply, and it seems to apply to all the situations.

(Note that this has been suggested by others, I'm just trying to explain why I think we're stuck accepting it as the closest thing we have.)

In every situation where we use "reply", I think it makes sense for someone to see the reply and ask "what prompted this"? The thing that they replied to was the prompt.

But I don't really like prompt as an "opposite/complement" per se--I think it's just the best thing we have in the absence of an actual word like 'repli[something]'. Calling something a "prompt" almost suggests [to me] that it intentionally invited a reply or was at least legitimately partially responsible for the reply, which is surely not always the case.

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