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Compound question: Wikis


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A compound question is one that actually asks several things which might require different answers. In a legal trial, a compound question will likely raise an objection, as the witness may be unable to provide a clear answer to the inquiry. For example, consider an imagined dialogue between a cross-examining attorney and a witness:

A: "So instead of murdering your neighbour, did you go home and bake a pie which you donated to the Girl Scouts bake sale?"
W: "No"
A: "So you admit you murdered your neighbour!"

The question could not be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" without the witness implicitly confessing to the murder.

Compound questions are a common feature in loaded questions such as "Are you still beating your wife?" The argument is phrased as a single question requiring a single answer, but actually involves two or more issues that cannot necessarily be accurately answered with a single response. By combining the questions "Are you currently beating your wife?" and "Have you ever beaten your wife?", one can make it impossible for someone who has never beaten his wife to effectively answer the question, as phrased with a simple "no". Instead all questions must be answered, therefore the innocent man should say "I have never beaten my wife." Thus not only saying no current wife beating is occurring, but none has ever happened.

In popular culture

On his album Mitch All Together, Mitch Hedburg jokes about a supposed compound question on his health insurance form: "Do you ever use sugar or PCP?"

See also



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