When to Use Doubt vs Question – English Vocabulary Lesson

A Common Vocabulary Problem

Many of my English students have come to me and said, “Teacher, I have a doubt.” Actually, the meaning of what they have said is quite different than what they want to communicate. You may know that you can say you have a “question” instead of a “doubt.” But when do you use these words? What is correct? Can you use them interchangeably? Let’s find out.

In this English vocabulary lesson, let’s look at the real meaning of doubt and why it is not correct in this situation. Not only is it incorrect, but you may upset your English teacher if you use the vocabulary word “doubt” in the wrong way!

The reason why this has happened is a problem called false cognates.


False Cognates and Learning English Vocabulary

Your first language does matter when you learn a second language. As an adult English learner, you have a broad vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. You also have an understanding of what generally happens when people communicate with each other. All of this past knowledge helps you to learn a second language! It can even put you at an advantage over children who are learning a first and second language at the same time.

However, your first language can interfere with learning a second language, especially if there are some similarities! Sometimes there are words that appear to be “cousins” or similar, but they are not. These are called false cognates. In Romance Languages like SpanishPortugueseFrenchItalianRomanian, and Catalan, you might say something similar to “I have a doubt” when you want to ask a question.

In English the word “doubt” has some relationship with the word “question,” but they are not the same. Using the word “doubt” with your English teacher may be upsetting and confusing.


The Difference Between Doubt and Question

“Doubt” signals distrust or disbelief. It is when you don’t have confidence in someone or something, or reason to believe that something is going to go wrong in a situation. If you tell your teacher you have a “doubt,” your teacher may think that you do not trust her.

Example: I have doubts about marrying Gregory because I don’t think he really loves me. I think he lied to me.

“Question” is when you want more information.

Example: Gregory, why do you love me?

You may have both doubts and questions, or doubts and then you ask questions to clear them up.

To sum up when to use doubt and question, just remember that if you want more information you have a question. Most likely in a classroom situation you will be asking a question, not a doubt!

If you want to improve your vocabulary, watch this video next about how to memorize English vocabulary words! 

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

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