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Double-barreled question

A double-barreled question (sometimes, double-direct question[1]) is an informal fallacy. It is committed when someone asks a question that touches upon more than one issue, yet allows only for one answer.[2][3][4] This may result in inaccuracies in the attitudes being measured for the question, as the respondent can answer only one of the two questions, and cannot indicate which one is being answered.[5]

Many double-barreled questions can be detected by the existence of the grammatical conjunction "and" in them.[2][3] This is not a foolproof test, as the word "and" can exist in properly constructed questions.

A question asking about three items is known as "trible (triple, treble)-barreled."[4] In legal proceedings, a double-barreled question is called a compound question.[6]


An example of a double-barreled question would be the following: "do you think that students should have more classes about history and culture?" This question asks about two different issues: "do you think that students should have more classes about history" and "do you think that students should have more classes about culture?" Combining both questions into one makes it unclear what exactly is being measured, and as each question may elicit a different response if asked separately there is an increased likelihood of confusing the respondents.[2] In other words, while some respondents would answer "yes" to both and some "no" to both, some would like to answer both "yes and no".[4]

Other examples of double-barreled questions:

  • "Please agree or disagree with the following statement: Cars should be faster and safer."[3]
  • "How satisfied are you with your pay and job conditions?"[4]
  • "How often and how much time do you spend on each visit to a hospital?"[5]
  • "Does your department have a special recruitment policy for men and women?"[5]
  • "Do you think that there is a good market for the product and that it will sell well?"
  • "Should the government spend less money on the military and more on education?"
  • "Is this tool interesting and useful?"

The same considerations apply to questions with fixed choice answers, as an answer can also be double-barreled. For example, if a question asks, "What motivates you to work?" an answer "Pleasant work and nice co-workers" is double-barreled.[4]

Buttering-up is a type of a double-barreled question. It happens when one of the questions is a question that the questioned person will want to answer "yes" to, and another that the questioner hopes will be answered with the same "yes." For example, "Would you be a nice guy and lend me five bucks?"

Some questions may not be double-barreled but confusingly similar enough to a double-barreled question to result in similar issues. For example, the question "Should the organization reduce paperwork required of employees by hiring more administrators?" can be interpreted as composed of two questions: "Should the organization reduce paperwork required of employees?" and "Should the organization hire more administrators?"

Double-barreled questions have been asked by professionals, resulting in notable skewed media reports and research pieces. For example, Harris Poll used double-barreled questions in the 1980s, investigating the US public opinion on Libya–United States relations, and American attitudes toward Mikhail Gorbachev.[7]

Legal usage

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 neighbor, 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 neighbor!"

Strictly speaking, this is not actually confessing to the murder because having some other act that was done instead of the murder would still be consistent with the answer "no," such as going shopping instead of killing the neighbor. Nonetheless, the answer to this question could be misleading, as the answer "no" would also be consistent with committing the murder. Such a question, if asked at trial, would properly be subject to an objection for being compound.

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 answer the question effectively with a simple "yes" or "no." Instead, all questions must be answered. Therefore the innocent person should say, "I have never beaten my wife," making it clear that no wife beating has ever occurred.

In popular culture

On his album Mitch All Together, Mitch Hedburg jokes about a supposed double-barreled question on his health insurance form: "Have you ever used sugar or PCP?"

See also


  1. ^ Terry J. Fadem, The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers, FT Press, 2008, ISBN 0-13-714424-5, Google Print, p.188
  2. ^ a b c Response bias. SuperSurvey, Ipathia Inc.
  3. ^ a b c Earl R. Babbie, Lucia Benaquisto, Fundamentals of Social Research, Cengage Learning, 2009, Google Print, p.251
  4. ^ a b c d e Alan Bryman, Emma Bell, Business research methods, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-19-928498-9, Google Print, p.267-268
  5. ^ a b c Ranjit Kumar, Research methodology: a step-by-step guide for beginners, SAGE, 2005, ISBN 1-4129-1194-X, Google Print, p.136-137
  6. ^ "compound question, definition". Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  7. ^ Earl R. Babbie, The Practice of Social Research', Cengage Learning, 2009, ISBN 0-495-59841-0, Google Print, p.258