I was wondering if there is a name for when a speaker asks someone a question that both speakers already know the answer to, in order to educate a third party. For instance, co-presenters on the television:

Speaker 1: So Bob, why did we choose this road?
Speaker 2: Well, this road is the safest road in the north.

I have heard of the 'rhetorical question', but it is my understanding that the rhetorical question is used to make a point, rather than to elicit genuine information.

I have also explored the 'Socratic question', but I understand that this type of question is used to help the answerer understand the subject matter in question.

Therefore, neither of these two types of questions seem to quite fit.

I would be grateful for any advice.

3 Answers 3


Hmm, I don't think either term really describes your example.

A rhetorical question is a question asked to make a point rather than to get an answer. Usually no answer is called for, and the question is more of a statement phrased as a question. Like if Al told Bob that this was the wrong road, and Bob took this road anyway, when it became clear that they were lost Al might ask, "So why did you take this road?" or "Didn't anyone tell you that this was the wrong road?"

Or my always favorite rhetorical question: "Is there really any point in asking rhetorical questions?"

A Socratic question is a question mean to lead the other person through the thought process to reach a conclusion. The person asking the question typically already knows the answer. He is not trying to gain information but to force the listener to think. For example, a teacher might present a student with a math problem, and then ask, "So which method of integration would you use here?", "Why did you divide the left side by x but the right side by x squared?", "What does it mean when you divide by zero?" and so on.

Often the goal of a Socratic question is to point out a logic flaw in something the other person has just said. Like, "Why do you assume that all Germans are Nazis?" In this type of case, the boundary between a Socratic question and a rhetorical question gets fuzzy. Still, I think there is a distinction. With a Socratic question, you are still expecting an answer. You want the student to say, "Well, because ..." With a rhetorical question, you are not expecting an answer. At least, not an answer other than a rebuttal of the premise behind the question, like, "That's not what I said!"

Your example resembles a Socratic question, maybe some would call it that.

I don't know any established phrase that clearly describes this kind of question.


Socratic questioning can educate both the answerer and others.

In teaching, the Socratic method is used to elicit more information from learners, and allow them to reflect on their education and explain concepts to themselves and others.


Perhaps this example could be considered Comic Relief.

  1. an amusing scene, incident, or speech introduced into serious or tragic elements, as in a play, in order to provide temporary relief from tension, or to intensify the dramatic action.
  2. relief from tension caused by the introduction or occurrence of a comic element, as by an amusing human foible.

As presented, either Socratic or Rhetorical could apply, depending on the intent of the speakers. Out of context, it is hard to determine application of either.

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