Grammar 101: Begging the Question

Just like you may have some trouble understanding whether to use “ever so often” or “every so often” to mean “once in a while,” many people are not using the term “begs the question” the right way. This error is increasingly widespread and common, which isn’t a good thing for all the grammar sticklers in the audience.

Even among mainstream media outlets, like network television and news programming, I find that the on-screen personalities are using “begging the question” incorrectly. They’re using “begs” when they really mean to say that something “raises the question.” Let’s clarify the difference.

“Begging the question” refers to a logical fallacy wherein the conclusion already assumes one of the propositions used to prove it. Also known as “petitio principii” (“assuming the initial point”), it was a term first coined by Greek philosopher Aristotle. While they are slightly different, “begging the question” is related to circular reasoning. Here’s an example.

  1. God exists.
  2. Because it says so in the Bible.
  3. I believe the Bible because it’s God’s word.

I’m not personally saying that God does not exist, but I am saying that the logic in this argument is faulty. A person could respond to this argument by saying that it begs the question: Why do you think God exists?

By contrast, “raising the question” simply refers to an issue that comes up over the course of a discussion and it has nothing to do with a logical fallacy. For instance, you could be talking about trying to expand school programs and how it “raises” the question of where the school will get the funding to support such programs. That’s raising the question, not begging it.

Now that you know the difference between “raising” the question and “begging” the question, please use these respective terms correctly. Confusion between the two is almost as widespread as the misuse of “I could care less.”