I'm sorry if this has been answered before. Is it grammatically incorrect to answer a question incorrectly? For example if someone were to ask "Would you take the bins out please?" and another answered "The time is quarter past three". It's obviously nonsense and doesn't answer the question, but does that mean it is grammatically incorrect? Even if the separate sentences are grammatically correct individually? Thanks.

Last edited by Wrow
Original Post

Hi, Wrow, and welcome to Grammar Exchange, 

@Wrow posted:

I'm sorry if this has been answered before. Is it grammatically incorrect to answer a question incorrectly? For example if someone were to ask "Would you take the bins out please?" and another answered "The time is quarter past three". It's obviously nonsense and doesn't answer the question, but does that mean it is grammatically incorrect? Even if the separate sentences are grammatically correct individually? Thanks.

Although I don't understand the purpose of your question, I will tell you my opinion. In real life, the answer to the question comes in the first place, whether this answer is grammatically correct or not. When I ask you about your name and you answer that you are 20 years old, don't expect me to continue talking to you as I would certainly feel there is something wrong with you. If you answer a question on the Internet or on this forum, and your answer doesn't apply to the question, l will just point out that your answer is grammatically correct, but doesn't apply to the question.  So, yes, in this case, I will distinguish between the grammaticality and the correctness of what you have written.

Last edited by ahmed_btm

No.  The two are not related.  An ungrammatical answer may make sense (in that you can intuit the respondent's intended message correctly), and a nonsense answer may be grammatically correct.

For instance,

"Whatʻs your favorite movie".  "Star Wars is I favorite movie."

There is often enough redundancy present in an English sentence to extract the intended message.

Alternatively,

"What time is it?"  "We are in London."

Both sentences here are grammatically correct, but the response is not at all apropos to the question.

Likewise, there are cases where the answer is grammatically correct and the words correctly chosen, yet the words are not organized in a manner that conveys the intended message properly.  From a comical grammar book:

panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

Note that, "Eats, shoots and leaves," is, from one point of view, nonsense --- yet it is exactly what the author of the joke intended.

Last edited by cwm9

Hi Wrow,

I find this question interesting, and the answer should be no, it is not grammatically incorrect.

Semantic correctness and grammatical correctness are two categories. I'm sure the latter can influence the former, but at least not in your cited case.

@Wrow posted:

I'm sorry if this has been answered before. Is it grammatically incorrect to answer a question incorrectly? For example if someone were to ask "Would you take the bins out please?" and another answered "The time is quarter past three".

Hello, Wrow, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

To add to what the others have said, I think it really comes down to what one means by grammatical correctness. As a sentence, "The time is quarter past three" is faultless. As a reply to the question "Would you take the bins out, please?," it is what many would call a non sequitur.

When I place ungrammaticality asterisks (*) before sentences on this forum, it is because I judge the sentence ungrammatical because of its violation of syntactic rules (by which I have in mind descriptive rules, not prescriptive) or of deep semantic principles (as in *"I have eaten lunch yesterday").

One can approach the concept of grammaticality at the level of the sentence or at the level of discourse. At the level of discourse, the second sentence of your example (though perfectly grammatical syntactically) is certainly ungrammatical, unless it is being used for drammatic or humorous effect.

Below is a famous, pertinent passage from Chomsky's Syntactic Structures:

Quote:

". . . the notion 'grammatical' cannot be identified with 'meaningful' or 'significant' in any semantic sense. Sentences (1) and (2) are equally nonsensical, but any speaker of English will recognize that only the former is grammatical.

(1) Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
(2) Furiously sleep ideas green colorless.

. . . It is fair to assume that neither sentence (1) nor (2) (nor indeed any part of these sentences) has ever occurred in an English discourse. Hence, in any statistical model for grammaticalness, these sentences will be ruled out on identical grounds as equally 'remote' from English. Yet (1), though nonsensical, is grammatical, while (2) is not" (pp. 15-16).

- Chomsky, Noam. (1957). Syntactic Structures. New York, NY: Mouton de Gruyter.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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