Is there a word to describe this type of question? The answer to this question is yes to both, so they can't be opposing questions. Washington is above Oregon and Oregon is above California. There has got to be a name for a question like this?

"Is Washington above Oregon or is Oregon above California?"


2 Answers 2


Laurence’s answer is a good one. There remains a difficulty in how such questions are expressed.

Either or statements can vary in their precise meaning. The word or is known as a disjunction - the opposite of a conjunction. Disjunctions ‘disjoin’ statements, where conjunctions join them.

The disjunction “A or B” can have two meanings. The first (known as an inclusive disjunction) allows that A, or B or both A and B may be true.

Would you like either milk or sugar in your coffee?

The second (known, obviously as an exclusive disjunction) allows only one of the two alternatives to be true, but not both

Is the US President Democrat or Republican?

An *either or *question involving an inclusive disjunction is not, therefore, a dichotomy. Only if such a question involves the exclusive type of disjunction can Laurence’s false dichotomy arise.

The reason for saying this is that it is not easy to phrase a disjunction so that it is absolutely clear which kind it is.

Possibly, a statement “either A or B” is more likely to be interpreted as exclusive than it would be without the word ‘either’. But that is not foolproof, as the ‘milk or sugar’ example illustrates.

To be completely certain, you would have to say something like

Which would you like in your coffee, milk or sugar?

Then we immediately see the question to be inept, presenting a false dichotomy.

Am I just being a pedant? No. The disjunction is among the least understood elements of the language. Because of that it is the easiest for politicians and others to exploit for the purpose of deception.


if a questioner leads you to believe the choices are mutually exclusive when they are not, you can say that you were presented a false dichotomy.

A dichotomy is a set of two mutually exclusive, jointly exhaustive alternatives. Dichotomies are typically expressed with the words "either" and "or", like this: "Either the test is wrong or the program is wrong."

A false dichotomy is a dichotomy that is not jointly exhaustive (there are other alternatives), or that is not mutually exclusive (the alternatives overlap), or that is possibly neither. Note that the example given above is not mutually exclusive, since the test and the program could both be wrong. It's not jointly exhaustive either, since they could both be correct, but it could be a hardware error, a compiler error and so on.

- wiki.c2.com

  • 1
    When I saw the original question, I knew it was " a trick question" so to speak. Just didn't know what to call it out as. Thank you!!! False dichotomy~perfect.
    – s.r.hanks
    May 8, 2018 at 6:42

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