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What is "Wrong question" short for? "A wrong question" or "The wrong question" or not short at all?

The next is "The right question".

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"House of Cards" S01E01 00:47:06

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  • @Andrew As an English learner, I NEVER accuse native speakers of their English. I know "Wrong question" is colloquial and short, but I DIDN'T know what it is short for. "A wrong question" or "THE wrong question", as I showed in my question. Thanks for your help, I now understand. Issues on articles are very difficult and puzzling, because there's no counterpart in Chinese.
    – Zhang Jian
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 5:26
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    This is a good question, and I see where your confusion comes from. I assume you know the general rules for the definite article in English. Normally when there is a singular right question in context, hence "the right question is..." And the rest is wrong questions, so you would say "That's a wrong question." When speaking informally, and with a forceful tone, people often say, "That's the wrong question." "Wong answer."
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 15:17

1 Answer 1

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As in any language, English speakers will omit unnecessary words when speaking informally or forcefully. In this case,

Wrong question

is short for

That is the wrong question.

This shortened answer is somewhat impolite -- the reporter is deliberately talking back to her editor (and boss) to assert that she understands the story better than he does. However, the next sentence follows the pattern of the unspoken sentence, "The right question is ..."

These kind of shortened interjections are pretty frequent. Some examples:

Wrong answer (= That is the wrong answer)

Good point (= That is a good point)

Well done (= That was well done)

True. (= That is true)

And, now recently associated with Donald Trump:

Wrong! (= that is wrong)

(edit) The difference between "a" vs. "the" is a frequent question here, and one that's difficult to answer as it varies with context. In general, "the" indicates some specific example of the thing, while "a" is non-specific, and possibly one of many similar examples.

In this case, "the wrong question" means I am thinking of a specific question -- the right question -- and this isn't it. Meanwhile "a good point" means I have no particular point in mind, so the point you made is one of many possible "good points".

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  • Why "Wrong answer = THE wrong answer", while "Good point = A good point"? As I said, I understand speakers need lots of omissions, but what I (and many others) may mistake is what they are short for, mainly when involving articles(a/an/the/zero article).
    – Zhang Jian
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 13:37
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    @ZhangJian There are many questions on ELL that ask about a/the distinctions, so please search for more detail. In this case it's simply idiomatic -- I use the to indicate I'm thinking of a specific answer (the right answer) rather than some answer in general. Meanwhile, a good point indicates I had no specific point in mind, so yours is as good as any. If I did have a specific point in mind, I might respond instead, "That's the same point I was going to make"
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 13:42

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