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English grammar question

  1. Aug 31, 2010 #1
    Hello, I have a question about English, can I ask?
    How can a yes or no question that contains a fallacy within its presumptions be answered truthfully without violating grammatical rules , questions such as asking "Did you stop killing people" For an innocent guy or Did you stop cheating in an exam.
    I can't find a section about Language studies, so I posted it here. ( I am not a native in English)
    As far as I know Did,do and does must be answered with either yes or no.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 31, 2010 #2
    no, i did not stop killing people. but then, i never started killing people. ;)

    the real answer is, we wouldn't answer these questions with a simple yes or no. "no" might suffice, but few would leave it at that, in order to avoid the wrong impression.
  4. Aug 31, 2010 #3
    but then if you say this aren't you contradiction yourself? like saying I didn't stop drinking water because I never started http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stop
    3 a : to cause to give up or change a course of action . If you didn't give up the action of killing people then you are still doing it.
    Edit: It can be in a way that is more entrapping like "Why don't you stop killing people" saying I don't kill people doesn't address the question at all.
  5. Aug 31, 2010 #4
    I'm pretty sure this trap exists in any language...

    In Spanish: dejó de matar gente?

    Whether you answer si or no, it's the same situation as in English.

    I think that the only way to answer the question correctly is to just ignore the "started" portion. You would say "I never killed anyone!" I'm pretty sure that it's the combination of a verb and a gerund that creates the problem.
  6. Aug 31, 2010 #5
    Ok my question is that if this answer is grammatically correct Since it doesn't 100% relate to the question asked.
  7. Aug 31, 2010 #6
    I guess the answer you're looking for is: you can't answer the question truthfully, as it is, if you never started killing people.
  8. Aug 31, 2010 #7
    is this more a mathematical question along the lines of Godel's theorems?
  9. Aug 31, 2010 #8


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    The problem (or strength) with any language is that it can easily express paradoxes that can't exist in nature.
  10. Aug 31, 2010 #9


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    Technically, there is nothing wrong with this:

    Q: Did you stop killing people?
    A: No.

    This meets all criteria: it is grammatically correct, it is a yes/no answer, and it is truthful.

    Now, if the questioner or witnesses wish to infer that you were perviously killing people, that's a completely different kettle of monkeys.

    It is in that subsequent inference that the fallacy lies.
  11. Aug 31, 2010 #10


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    Actually, the proper word is "imply". To "infer" is to form an opinion, not to instill one. Anyhow, the question to really trap someone in that regard would be "are you still killing people?" In a yes-or-no situation, you're screwed either way.
  12. Aug 31, 2010 #11
    Just provide essential details.

    E.g., "Are you still doing drugs in the bathroom stall at the library?" - "Seeing as how I've never done that, no."

    I don't care enough to correct you or myself if that isn't grammatically correct. Usually, I don't care about grammar if you can communicate effectively. Language is used to transmit information between brains.

    But, I understand that you want to know if that's grammatically correct--I don't know.
  13. Aug 31, 2010 #12
    The questions seem unnatural and you cannot ask it out of blue. I think "Did you stop cheating in an exam" can only be asked if I admit it first in a conversation about my past. I would just reply with a question: Why you think I was cheating? or something similar.
  14. Sep 1, 2010 #13
    From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
    Assuming you have never killed anyone, the truthful answer is no, regardless of the impression it might leave upon others.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  15. Sep 1, 2010 #14


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    No, the proper word is infer. As in: they make an assumption, form their own opinion.*

    To imply, the accusor would have had to go on to say more. I was not my suggestion that they said any more.

    * I choose to show you mercy, and not kill you for casting aspersions upon my grammatical prowess.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  16. Sep 1, 2010 #15


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    Nope. Same thing.

    Q: "Are you still killing people?"
    A: "No."

    Jury (to self): ("Haha, so I can infer that he was killing people before - OK, he didn't actually say that...")

    Is it easier if you look at it in the form of a true/false statement.

    "You are still killing people."
    The above statement is false. Regardless of any implications it may make, it is, in and of itself, false.

    Reforming it as an interrogative does not change its state.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  17. Sep 1, 2010 #16


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    You can ask it out of the blue, if you wield enough power.

    The OP's question is about yes/no answers. The paradox inherent in the question is the issue in debate.

    The answer is that you can answer with a yes/no, without explicitly addressing the unspoken accusation embedded in the question.
  18. Sep 1, 2010 #17
    Yes but this isn't an unlikely inference, actually it is a very valid one. If someone is not still killing then his actions didn't remain still and same and he changed them therefore he killed before. I mean specially in a trial if the accuser tells you to answer with a yes or no and nothing else then you are guilty either way.
  19. Sep 1, 2010 #18


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    The proper response in a trial is for your lawyer to shout "Objection!" and the judge to reply "Sustained". The jury would just think the prosecutor is an idiot for asking a question like that

    If you say "I did not stop killing people" (the equivalent of answering no) we can parse it as:

    "The following is false: I stopped killing people"

    To stop killing people, you have to
    1) Kill people
    2) Then in the future no longer do that

    And for the statement "I stopped killing people" to be false, either (1) or (2) could be false
  20. Sep 1, 2010 #19


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    Jeez, but you are an irritating little creature. :tongue:
    The context in which you used the word suggested otherwise. An accuser or witness might have inferred guilt on the part of the accused, but by verbalizing it they are implying it to the jury (or judge, or mother-in-law, or whoever).
  21. Sep 1, 2010 #20


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    OK, just to get this straight...Danger, are you implying that Dave is irritating? :devil:
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