Leading questions and statements

A typology of leading language
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Published in Rapport Issue 50, Winter 2000.

© Wendwell 2000. This document may be copied free of charge provided that this box is reproduced with each copy or part copy and copies are not sold or used as part of a service for which a charge is made. wendell.co.uk

To be more aware of leading language it is useful to know the different forms it takes. Not being able to find a typology that suited my needs, I developed the one below. It became clear to me that each type of leading could be used with or without a question. Later I added other sections to make this a more useful resource for others.

What is a Leading Question?

  • Prompting desired answer (Oxford Concise Dictionary)
  • One that suggests the answer or which only allows a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Only allowed in cross-examination. (Penguin Guide to the Law, 1986)
  • A question that makes assumptions about the answer to it, regardless of the awareness or intention of the questioner. (my definition).

 What is a Leading Statement?

  • A statement that inclines phenomena to be considered or responded to in a particular way. (my definition)  

Some types of leading questions and statements

Leading Question

Leading Statement

Forced Choice / Multiple Choice Which do you like better, peas, okra or beans? You can have carrots, cabbage, parsnip or pumpkin.

I Mind Read You

You like spaghetti squash, don’t you? You will love what I do with turnips. 

You Mind Read Me

Mandarins are better, know what I mean?

As you know, I can really get excited by fresh lettuce

Impersonal Assertions 

Doesn’t spinach have lots of iron?

Cabbages struggle in lime soils.

Preferred Answer Indicated

How do you feel about me putting this garlic in the salad?

The sort of people we want are keen on garlic.

Challenged Statements  

How can you say you don’t like bananas?

But everyone knows grapes are good for you!

Socratic (or The Right Answer Is In This Direction)

So if plum blossom comes out in spring when do we first expect to see the fruit?

If you look at the apples you will notice it is the peel directly facing the sun which has gone red. There is usually a reason for such consistent patterns.


Other leading questions and statements come from the use of presuppositions, words that assume something else to be true.
E.g. “When did you stop crushing garlic?” presupposes or implies:

  • that the person questioned formerly crushed garlic
  •  that the crushing of garlic took place over time
  • that garlic crushing is no longer taking place
  • that garlic is being used but with some other form of preparation

Presupposition Definitions

  • The information that a speaker assumes to be already known. (The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language, 1987)
  • A basic underlying assumption that is necessary for a representation to make sense. Within language systems, a sentence which must be true for some other sentence to make sense. (The Structure of Magic, Vol. I)

Some examples of presuppositions

Time Based When did you stop forcing your rhubarb? Afterthe tomatoes have ripened you can really enjoy them.
Change Of Time Are you going to stop growing endive? Lee will continue to producegreat onions.
Complex Adjective Why have you bought green lemons? (presupposes there are other kinds) We have good quality, newpotatoes.
Ordinal Numerals Wasn’t that your fourth brazil nut? You will get step fiveof my brinjal pickle recipe next week.
Comparatives Aren’t my radishes as crisp as yours? Capsicums are even betterfreshly picked.
Change of State Verbs Won’t you be surprised if your seedlings turn into icebergs? A frost tonight could transformmy cucumbers into mush.

Further information on presuppositions

The Structure of Magic – a book about language and therapy, Vol. 1. Richard Bandler & John Grinder, Science & Behaviour Books, Palo Alto, 1975

Presuppositions are often included in NLP Trainings but may be only a small part of the course content.

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