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beg the question

The original meaning of the expression beg the question comes from the field of logic; but in general writing, this expression has taken on a different meaning that is now widely accepted.

In logic

A debater who begs the question is using a faulty argument. Begging the question involves assuming the truth of an initial statement, without offering any evidence to back it up.

One common way of begging the question is to merely restate a claim in other words. The sentence below is an example:

  • This plant won’t grow in that soil because the soil is not right for this type of plant.

In the argument above, saying that the soil is not right for the plant is the same as saying that the plant won’t grow in the soil. The initial claim has simply been restated in different words. No actual evidence has been provided to back up the claim (the soil is too alkaline, too sandy, etc.).

In general writing

A great many writers today use the expression beg the question to mean "raise or invite a question."

This usage has become both widespread and widely accepted, and the definition is even listed in some dictionaries.

However, since this use of the expression is not yet universally accepted and is often seen as an error, it may be better to avoid it. We recommend that you use "invite the question" or "raise the question" instead.

  • "The captain was not drunk today," read the first mate’s entry in the ship’s log, raising (not begging) the question of the captain’s sobriety on other days.