0

In Indian English, it is widely used as "I have a doubt with .....". While in America English, it is used as "I suspect there is a problem with...".

What is the conceptual difference between these two? Which is recommended/correct way to use?

  • 1
    There's extensive discussion on "doubt" and "question" at english.stackexchange.com/questions/2429/… – Xanne Apr 17 '17 at 6:42
  • 1
    Nowadays, Americans would generally use doubt in this sense in the plural. We would usually say "I have doubts about ...". – Peter Shor Apr 17 '17 at 16:39
  • 1
    As an AmE speaker, I've always found the "doubt" construction (to mean "question") offputting. To my ear, it expresses a reluctance to admit you don't know something; rather, it seems to express "I know this, but there's room for some uncertainty, and I want to discuss that with you", as opposed to "you have information I don't have, and I want you to give it to me". It comes across as egotistical and circumlocutory. Same as when a phone operator in a call center asks "can you please confirm your address", implying they want to match it to their records, when really hey don't have it at all. – Dan Bron Apr 17 '17 at 16:42
  • 3
    As an American English speaker, I would not say I use the expression "I have a doubt" at all. As Peter Shor said, I would usually use the plural "I have (my/some) doubts about..." – herisson Apr 17 '17 at 17:21
4

There is a proposed duplicate question that links to a lengthy previous discussion describing why "doubt" and "question" might be interchangeable in some cases and where this came from. If I understand the question correctly, and the American English tag, I don't think that thread really answers the question of the conceptual difference and proper usage in American English. I'll focus on that here.

"I have a doubt"

The relevant Merriam-Webster definitions of doubt. Start with the verb form:

  • to call into question the truth of: "He doubts everyone's word."
  • distrust, to lack confidence in: "I find myself doubting him even when I know that he is honest."
  • to consider unlikely: "I doubt if I can go"

To doubt isn't to question, it is to state a kind of "negativity".

The noun form (keep the verb form in mind for perspective on these definitions):

  • uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making: "I had a nagging doubt in the back of my mind." This isn't really a question as much as a suspicion (e.g., something is wrong or your assumptions are inadequate).
  • distrust, a lack of confidence: "He has doubts about his abilities." Distrust rather than a question.
  • an inclination not to believe or accept: "a claim met with doubt" Disbelief rather than a question.

"I have a question"

"Question" is neutral, just a means to obtain information. The relevant Merriam-Webster definitions of question:

  • an interrogative expression often used to test knowledge
  • inquiry, an act or instance of asking

"I suspect there is a problem with..."

To "suspect" isn't to have a question, it is more to have an opinion. Merriam-Webster definitions of suspect:

There is a definition that is similar to doubt:

  • distrust, to have doubts of: "suspects her motives", but that doesn't apply in this case.

The relevant definition:

  • to imagine something to be true, likely, or probable

This is in someways the reverse of "doubt". Doubt is distrust, disbelief, or concern that something is wrong, and it may interfere with moving forward. It is similar to "worry" in that it isn't a very constructive mental state, perhaps other than to motivate you to do something about it.

If it does motivate you to do something, that might lead to an idea or discovery that can put you on the road to a solution. At that point, you might say, "I suspect there is a problem with..." That is a specific thing you believe, and it is constructive.

A place where "doubt" and "suspect" could be used to express similar meanings would be "I doubt X is true" vs. "I suspect X is false". Notice that the terms approach the issue from opposite perspectives, so they need to be stated in the reverse of each other.

These sentences have similar, but not identical meanings. "I doubt X is true" expresses a strong belief that it is not true. "I suspect X is false" is a suspicion but not a strong belief that it is the case. To use "doubt" with the same meaning as "suspect", you would need to add qualifiers to soften it, such as "I have some doubts about X being true". Or, you could strengthen "suspect" to make it more equivalent to "doubt", such as "I strongly suspect that X is false".

1

In a comment, Dan Bron wrote:

As an AmE speaker, I've always found the "doubt" construction (to mean "question") offputting. To my ear, it expresses a reluctance to admit you don't know something; rather, it seems to express "I know this, but there's room for some uncertainty, and I want to discuss that with you", as opposed to "you have information I don't have, and I want you to give it to me". It comes across as egotistical and circumlocutory. Same as when a phone operator in a call center asks "can you please confirm your address", implying they want to match it to their records, when really hey don't have it at all.

-2

It depends on your need. If you're conversing with a non-native, say another Indian person, in a casual conversation, then using the former would be fine. It's more like an informal way of putting across your query. But in written communication, always go for the formal approach of the statement. "I have a query regarding this" is also good for written communication, instead of "I have a doubt".

  • 1
    I don't think the distinction is "formal" vs "informal", I think it's "IndE" vs "non-IndE". Even in very casual conversation in AmE (and BrE), we would not say "I have a doubt" for "I have a question". – Dan Bron Apr 17 '17 at 23:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.