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I have a doubt about doubt

  1. Oct 20, 2007 #1


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    Staff: Mentor

    I have a doubt about "doubt"

    Many non-native English speakers here use the word "doubt" where a native English speaker would use "question" instead. Is this just a random confusion of two words with somewhat similar meanings, or is there some pattern to this? Do these people have a native language that doesn't distinguish the two meanings with separate words? Or is there a dialect of English in which the two words are actually used interchangeably?

    For those of you who don't know the difference, and why using "doubt" instead of "question" looks strange to me... If you have a question about something, that simply indicates (to me) that you don't understand it, or don't know anything about it, and want to learn about it. On the other hand, if you have a doubt about something, that means that you are skeptical about it, or that you think it might be wrong or incorrect.

    So when someone says, "I have a doubt about relativity," that looks at first glance like he might be one of those cranks who thinks relativity is wrong, as opposed to someone who simply doesn't understand something about it. (Of course, I now know that I have to be careful about jumping to a conclusion like that!)
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2007 #2
    I haven't noticed this but it sounds like a confusion of the verb and noun. It's synonymous to say "I question that," and "I doubt that." Therefore some may be assuming the nouns "question" and "doubt" are likewise synonymous.
  4. Oct 20, 2007 #3


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    It may be a problem of translation, rather than meaning/semantics.

    I got into some interesting and serious conflicts over translation/meaning with some non-English persons. I had simply assumed because they could speak English very well, that they could understand exactly what I meant. In one case, a woman from an Eastern European country took the trouble to explain what she thought I had said, but we discovered that what she thought was very different from what I meant. We went to effort of comparing different dictionaries, and we discovered that some dictionaries were not careful or thorough, and one could easily get a very wrong translation.

    I think patience is required by both parties, and some effort must be expended to clarify the meaning.
  5. Oct 21, 2007 #4


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    Good point! I'd forgotten about that.

    I'm sure it's been happening before, but after I noticed it for the first time, sometime this year, it jumps off the page at me now whenever I see it.

    I just thought of another reason why it looks odd to me. Instead of saying "I have a doubt about it", I think most native English speakers would say "I have doubts about it" (in situations where "doubt" would be appropriate, of course). Plural instead of singular. It's things like this that make it difficult to speak or write any language like a native, without hearing or reading a lot of material from native speakers.
  6. Oct 21, 2007 #5


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    I come from a place where this misuse is widespread. I think it may have originated as a bastardization arising out of laziness. When someone says "I have a doubt about <xyz theory>" what they mean is that they have doubts about their understanding of the theory, not about the theory itself.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2007
  7. Oct 21, 2007 #6

    I think you can 'doubt' and not have a question. --and you can 'question' and it can either be a 'doubt' or just a need for 'clarification'.

    Do I have 100% certainty (without a single doubt) in relativity?-----absolutely not
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