Is the sentence below asking simply if you can answer the problem, or to give an answer to the problem? * Please do not edit. This way it appears below, is the way it was presented from the initial source. *

**Can you answer this? There are 5 people in a room, you go in and kill 4 of those 5, how many people actually remain in that room?

  • It can be read either way. You'd need more context to disambiguate. – Lawrence Aug 17 '18 at 18:52
  • There needs to be more context. In one sence, technically you'd be answering "Can you answer this?", which is "yes", "no", "I can try", etc. Practically speaking, most people are expecting a number to answer the second question. If your question was preceded by "I can't answer this type of puzzle. Can you answer this?" You might just say, "Yes, I enjoy those types of puzzles"--and not answer the specific example of this puzzle. – jimm101 Aug 17 '18 at 19:47
  • 1
    So is your question "Should there be a question mark at the end of this question?" (The answer is "yes"). @agc has edited your question to delete what you actually asked. I'm not sure whether to edit it back or not ... – user184130 Aug 17 '18 at 22:51
  • 1
    @RegDwigHt Huh? Of course it is about English. Well, maybe not English specifically, but certainly about linguistics which I thought was within the scope of SE. What do you think it is about? – user184130 Aug 17 '18 at 23:49

Understanding whether the question is asking for a "yes/no" answer or the solution to the problem is an issue of implicature.

Implicature is a technical term in the pragmatics linguistics, coined by H. P. Grice, which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.

In other words, when people say something, we have to use context and our knowledge of the conventions of language to determine what is meant.

For example, if you are out for a drink with a friend and he says, "Do you have any money?" he is probably not really concerned about your financial situation but perhaps suggesting that he hasn't got any and hopes you will pay for the drinks.

So, in this case, although they could just be asking if you are able to solve the problem it is far more likely that they are asking you to actually solve it.

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