I've observed a significant number of questions on SO & SE, presumably written by folks use Indian English, in which the word "doubt" is used where "question" should have been used. The sentences usually look like "I have a doubt about [interesting topic].."

My question, then, is: how or why did Indian English shift the meaning of "doubt" from its usage in British English? I'm looking for any historical development of this usage.

Edit required by SE - the latest comments on literal vs. idiomatic translations are more what I'm after. How did the word "doubt' take on this non-BritEng usage in India?

  • 5
    Possible duplicate of Can "doubt" sometimes mean "question"?
    – Ébe Isaac
    Sep 13, 2016 at 12:03
  • 1
    Surely it isn't a change in meaning, it is just phraseology. They ask a question to allay their doubt.
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 13, 2016 at 13:06
  • 3
    @GEdgar - could be Spanish. Tengo una duda is literally "I have a doubt" but what it actually means is I have a question. Sep 14, 2016 at 4:09
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    @user662852 "Teacher, I have a doubt about what you said". In InE that means "Teacher, I have a question". In AmE or BrE that would mean "Teacher, I think that what you are saying may not be correct".
    – oerkelens
    Sep 14, 2016 at 8:31
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    It took me a long time to get used to seeing this usage of the word. I still find it jarring.
    – Barmar
    Sep 19, 2016 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


The root of this usage can perhaps be traced to one Indian word: Shankaa. The word Shankaa does represent doubt with the sense as in British English. However, it does get used to convey one more sense: a state of 'confusion', i.e., partial understanding enough to make one capable of seeking a clarification. Often this state doesn't get referred to as a state of having a question in mind, since the question itself may not be very clear and precise, and it may also be an invalid one. Secondly, questioning also sounds like being a bit aggressive, conveying a feeling of posing as a challenger. Posing doubts sounds more polite and correct. So, the teachers ask questions and the students have doubts for clarification! Thus, Doubt when used to represent a question becomes more friendlier than Question.

  • This seems great! Do you have any references or evidence to improve it? Oct 15, 2016 at 12:07

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