A question that's not exactly rhetorical but the answer IS implied.

for example; "am I annoying you?"

you're meant to say no, and they are aware that they are indeed annoying you.

  • 4
    So far as I'm concerned, this can be called a rhetorical question - depending on context, of course. A similar one where you can be pretty sure the context means it is a rhetorical question would be "You don't like me much, do you?" – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 21:47
  • I still think there can be a distinction between the two, although it is very subtle. In one the answer is implied and 'used' (your example), in the other the answer is implied but not used in the conversation. ah... it's hard to explain. – SirYakalot Jan 16 '12 at 21:58
  • 1
    A term like "rhetorical question" basically just says it's not a normal question. It doesn't say anything else, really, because rhetorical doesn't have any fixed meaning, and it can be used as a label for anything strange. Many people feel that when they've labelled something, they've explained it. – John Lawler Jan 16 '12 at 22:52
  • 2
    @John Lawler: I shied away from going that far, but of course one could say "rhetorical" in this context means no more than that the utterance was made for effect rather than in a spirit of genuine enquiry. Maybe we should class the priest's "Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?" as a "performative sentence/question" (or whatever you call such self-actualising utterances these days). But as you say, labelling things only gets you sp far. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 23:06
  • 1
    @SirYakalot Please can you edit your question to supply some more examples? I don't see why I have to say "no" or why the other person expects it despite knowing that they are annoying. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 17 '12 at 12:22

It's still a rhetorical question, but of a particular subtype.

There doesn't seem to be agreement on the what the subtypes are called, but this site (like others I've seen) lists three types of rhetorical questions (RQ):

  1. RQ/Agreement: includes agreements that take the form of a question (A. "Do you want to do that then?" B. "Sure, why not?")
  2. RQ/Point: includes questions that are uttered with the belief that an obvious point can be inferred by the addressee (A. "The conference room is empty if you want to take your phone call in there." B: "Am I annoying you?")
  3. RQ/Backchannel: indicates only an interest on the initiators part for the addressee to continue speaking (A: "There is a faster way to do that, you know." B: "You don't say?")

While the reference notes that "in all cases, the rhetorical question is asked for the purposes of making a point rather than to obtain information," your rhetorical question is of subtype rhetorical-point.

  • As John comments, labeling isn't the same as explaining. And any labeling system is at risk of obscuring rather than illuminating - as soon as you choose your labels you've imposed an interpretative framework which might actually not be optimum. I might, for example, say that the two primary classes of rhetorical question are those used for polite effect, and those intended to dominate (I only said "might", so pls don't tear into that one! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 23:18
  • @FumbleFingers Classifying and labeling aren't entirely useless, however. (Just ask Linnaeus.) The intent clearly differs in each classification, and the distinction (or the attempt to make one) matters to the OP. – Gnawme Jan 17 '12 at 0:43
  • Yes, but the Linnaen system for animals is a quite remarkable success story (and it's had a lot of drastic changes since his day). And don't forget his plant and mineral systems are complete flops, probably largely for the reason I gave. IMHO the one you quote for rhetorical questions won't have legs, because 99% of all analysable usages will turn out to fall into the "point" subclass. – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '12 at 1:01

I don't believe that this is a grammatical thing; it's more social I suppose. When you ask somebody if you are annoying them it is not supposed to be because you know that you are already and they are not supposed to just say "no". When I ask somebody if I am annoying them, it is because I feel it is likely that I am annoying them — only they are too polite to say so. I don't want to annoy anybody and I certainly don't want anybody to have to sit there and endure me out of politeness. Therefore, when I ask if I am being annoying I am looking for a honest answer because I'm not certain if I am and I do not wish to be.

If someone is being annoying, knows they are and asks if they're being annoying expecting to be told "no", well they're just being fake; to themselves as well as the other person involved. So, basically, the question isn't really supposed to be rhetorical at all — it's just supposed to be a question.

  • Hi Ron, welcome to ELU. You make some good points there - particularly by not focussing purely contexts where you would be likely to come out with OP's example. I don't like the word "fake" (generational thing, I guess), but it's good that you put that alternative possibility forward. In effect, if you asked the question it would probably be a genuine enquiry, but in another context (with a fake/rude/domineering questioner, perhaps), it could be rhetorical (the real answer is expected to be "Yes", even if the person might be afraid to actually say that). – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 22:57
  • That's right. This is not grammar; this is Pragmatics. – John Lawler Jan 16 '12 at 22:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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