If you were to ask someone a question with an obvious answer just to ask another question or to bring a subject up, would that be rhetorical? Like asking "Are you okay?" when someone is obviously hurt when you really mean "What's wrong?" or "How can I help you?". Or if someone at work is absent and you ask "Is [Person] out today?" when you really mean to ask why they're out.

I've been wondering lately because I've seen a lot people get irritated and think I'm just asking a stupid question with an obvious answer and it's making me wonder if I've been using rhetorical questions wrong.

  • No, I just don't know if questions like the examples I used are rhetorical questions or not. Mar 11, 2018 at 2:37
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    If people are irritated because they think you expect an answer, it's not rhetorical. If people are irritated because they think you're being a smart-ass, it's rhetorical.
    – danch
    Mar 11, 2018 at 3:01
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    I have caught myself in the habit of greeting someone by saying 'Y'awright ?' meaning 'are you alright ?' To which some people respond with the same 'Y'awright ?' Which is ridiculous. It's not just a rhetorical question (I don't, if I'm being honest, want to hear about their troubles, I want them to say 'yes') it's also a stupid way to greet someone. I must find another, more sensible greeting.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 11, 2018 at 3:23
  • A rhetorical question is one not intended to result in a response. But "Are you OK?" is usually intended as an open-ended question where a typical but probably unpredictable answer ("I feel a bit sick." / "I've twisted my ankle." / "I've lost my wallet." / ... ) will be fed back. // The more 'honest' "What's wrong?" could be taken as too intrusive; "Can I help?" might be a happy medium. // The 'not-quite-applicable' questions are hedged versions, but, as you say, can be seen as patronising. Like "Are we feeling unwell today?" Mar 11, 2018 at 8:54
  • I am expecting an answer, but not to the question I asked. I am indirectly or implying another question. I know you could use these questions to make a statement which would be rhetorical, but I don't know if you can use them to imply another one that you do want answered directly. Mar 11, 2018 at 15:56

3 Answers 3


A "rhetorical" question is a question which is asked to make a point rather than get a correct answer or remark. For example, if someone you knew failed their test without trying at all, you would say:

Are you happy with the grade you got?

The question does not require an answer, it was asked to make the student think about his responsibility as a learner.

"Is [Person] out today?"

When you really mean to ask why they're out, is not rhetorical, because you're asking a question without expecting a normal answer. That is different from asking a question which does not require an answer, hence it can be considered incorrect.

A rhetorical question must not be used for casual talk, inquiry or gathering information(Unless absolutely required). Rhetorical questions are better used while debating, in persuasive speeches, when you need to get your point forward to another person.

If you don't know what answer you want for your question, how is the other person supposed to understand what you want?


A rhetorical question is one that's asked when the answer is obvious. So it wouldn't be a rhetorical question if the answer only created another question.

  • It could be both rhetorical (the answer is implied) and also it could generate another question. Both conditions could exist in a single question. Which I think is what the OP is asking.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 11, 2018 at 3:33
  • 'The answer' is ill-defined. "Are you hurt?" might well generate the response "It's my left leg." Mar 11, 2018 at 8:46
  • Yes, the answer is implied but the purpose is to imply another question. Mar 11, 2018 at 15:46

This looks more like a cultural difference than a language thing. Directness x Indirectness in communications

You're being indirect in the way you communicate, by not directly asking what you want to know, but asking a different question and hoping that the other person will volunteer the information as a follow-up to your question. Typical example is talking about the weather for a conversation starter or ice-breaker.

For cultures that are direct, this comes across as really annoying depending on the subject, because you're asking something you can easily observe. See comparison:


1: Hey, is (Person) out today?

2: Yes, they just called in sick. Conjuntivitis, very nasty. I hope I don't get it, I sat with them in a small room all day yesterday.


1: Hey, is (Person) out today?

2: Yes. (and all variations of a laconic answer with varying degrees of rudeness depending on how annoyed they get with your question, from "Well, they're not here" to "are you blind?")

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