Alternative Question (Grammar)

Two cups of coffee, one with milk and one black

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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.

Examples and Observations:

  • Amelia: Are you coming or going?
    Viktor Navorski: I don't know. Both.
  • "Would you rather have some wind farms off the Cape Cod coast, or would you rather have an oil spill?"
  • "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."

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."

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."

Also Known As

Nexus question, closed question, choice question, either-or question, multiple choice


Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Hanks in The Terminal, 2004

Bill Maher, Real Time With Bill Maher, April 30, 2010

Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Houghton Mifflin, 1976

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

Ian Brace, Questionnaire Design: How to Plan, Structure and Write Survey Material for Effective Market Research, 2nd ed. Kogan Page, 2008

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Alternative Question (Grammar)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Alternative Question (Grammar). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Alternative Question (Grammar)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).