Today I served a customer dressed obviously for cycling. He came in with his trousers tucked into his socks and a very obvious cycling helmet. I asked my colleague

Do you think he came on his bike?

She (is Polish with exceptionally proper English and) asked me how I would refer to a sarcastic question like that. Nearest I can think is rhetorical?

  • 1
    I would say it is just a sarcastic question. A rhetorical question is slightly different in that it is meant to lead to the asker's next point.
    – Dr Xorile
    May 24, 2017 at 21:13
  • 1
    I'd opt for an ironic question rather than a sarcastic one. english.stackexchange.com/questions/26621/… May 24, 2017 at 22:32
  • It's an ironic question.
    – 3kstc
    May 25, 2017 at 0:05
  • @Dr Xorile are you referring to 'rhetorical question as a figure of speech' or literally a question used in rhetoric? May 25, 2017 at 2:08
  • No, that's 'English' humour for you! May 25, 2017 at 6:14

2 Answers 2


The device you might be using is an understatement:

This literary device refers to the practice of drawing attention to a fact that is already obvious and noticeable. Understating a fact is usually done by way of sarcasm, irony, wryness or any other form of dry humor. Understating something is akin to exaggerating its obviousness as a means of humor. (Literary-Devices.com)

In this case, not only did he come on a bike, but he is apparently a very enthusiastic cyclist.

Your question also might be considered sarcastic if your intent by it was to mock the way the person was dressed.

Irony is something different, where a statement of fact seems at odds with other facts:

That man who shot himself in the foot - he's a gun safety instructor.

There is no irony in your question (rhetorical or not) that suggests that there is a disconnect between what you are observing and how the person is dressed.


You: you think he came on his bike?

Friend: (thinks or says) do you need to ask!

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked to make a point rather than to elicit an answer.

Attributed to


A rhetorical question is a question that you ask without expecting an answer. The question might be one that does not have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect.



(1) Sarcasm or irony is not explicit or implied in your question, but somebody could read irony into it with justification, because of the person's obvious cycling attire. An interpretation of sarcasm is less justified because yours is a neutral statement without mocking or negative meaning.

(2) Since the person is so evidently a cyclist, and you are not really asking your friend whether this person came on his bike, it could well be called a rhetorical question.

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