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alternative question

An alternative question

Definition:

A type of question (or interrogative) that offers the listener a closed choice between two or more answers.

In conversation, an alternative question typically ends with a falling intonation.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • Amelia: Are you coming or going?
    Viktor Navorski: I don't know. Both.
    (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Hanks in The Terminal, 2004)


  • "Would you rather have some wind farms off the Cape Cod coast, or would you rather have an oil spill?"
    (Bill Maher, Real Time With Bill Maher, April 30, 2010)


  • "I just said 'fantasy' and 'struggle' in the same sentence, and on one level, at least, I guess that's what it's about. That's what it's about for cowgirls, and maybe everybody else. A lot of life boils down to the question of whether a person is going to be able to realize his fantasies, or else end up surviving only through compromises he can't face up to. The way I figure it, Heaven and Hell are right here on Earth. Heaven is living in your hopes and Hell is living in your fears. It's up to each individual which one he chooses."
    (Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Houghton Mifflin, 1976)


  • "The term alternative question is commonly applied to questions of all the following forms:
    a. Did Mary arrive on the 1:00 plane, or is she coming on the 3:00 plane?
    b. Did Mary arrive on the 1:00 plane or on the 3:00 plane?
    c. Which plane did Mary arrive on--the 1:00 plane or the 3:00 plane?
    These three types of questions enumerate a set of possible answers and direct the addressee to choose among them. Ordinary Wh-questions, by contrast, are at least ostensibly open-ended; for example, Which plane did Mary arrive on? allows any answer that names a flight, though in many cases (such as when it is known that the 1:00 plane and the 3:00 plane are the only flights on which Mary could have arrived), that distinction becomes academic."
    (James D. McCawley, The Syntactic Phenomena of English. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998)


  • Alternative Questions in the Classroom
    "Pedagogical alternative questions also convey assertions . . .. The first alternative, in repeating an item from the student's text or prior talk, calls it into question. When the teacher then provides an alternate, the teacher is conveying to the student that the newly proposed item should be considered over the original item. The second alternative is thus proposed as a candidate correction of the words in the first alternative. It is a candidate correction because it is still up to the student to choose the second alternative. Students' answers almost invariably repeat the second, or preferred, alternative."
    (Irene Koshik, "Questions That Contain Information in Teacher-Student Conferences." Why Do You Ask?: The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse, ed. by Alice Freed and Susan Ehrlich. Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)


  • Alternative Questions in Surveys
    "Closed questions with more than one possible answer are known as multiple choice (or multi-chotomous) questions. Such a question might be: 'Which brand of beer on this list have you drunk in the last seven days?' Clearly, there is a finite number of answers; the range of possible answers does not require respondents to say anything 'in their own words.' By defining the brands of interest the questionnaire has made this a closed question."
    (Ian Brace, Questionnaire Design: How to Plan, Structure and Write Survey Material for Effective Market Research, 2nd ed. Kogan Page, 2008)


  • "[C]onsider the following question asked of single mothers.
    Q: Why did you choose to keep your child?

    A: Pressured by peers
    Pressured by parents
    Pressured by church
    Here is a question where, although some possible responses have been listed, there may be many other factors underlying a woman's decision to keep her child. One way to deal with this problem is to include an 'Other' category where the respondent can fill in his or her answer. The disadvantage is that those answers have to be coded in some way, and if you receive many diverse responses, you may have simply created . . . an open-ended question."
    (Annabel Ness Evans and Bryan J. Rooney, Methods in Psychological Research, 2nd ed. Sage, 2011)


  • "'Did you mean to say edit,' Maisy May said, 'or did you mean to say rewrite?'

    "'Well, if we feel that actual rewriting is necessary, then, yes.'"
    (Kurtis Davidson, What the Shadow Told Me. Eastern Washington Univ. Press, 2005)
Also Known As: nexus question, closed question, choice question, either-or question, multiple choice
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