Knowing the difference between literal and inferential questions can help you demonstrate your critical thinking and analytical skills in a paper or speech. Having a solid understanding of different question prompts will allow you to formulate better answers and improve the manner in which you frame your writing for an audience.

Defining Literal Questions

Literal questions require concrete, straightforward answers. Answers to literal questions are always facts, and there is always one correct answer. In reading comprehension exercises, answers to literal questions can always be found in the text. Answers to literal questions might shed light on the who, what, when or where.

Examples of Literal Questions

Literal questions ask for answers that are specific and can be confirmed and therefore agreed upon by many people. Examples include: "What time does the concert start?" "What size do you wear?" "What references did you use to write your paper?" and "What do two and two total?"

Defining Inferential Questions

Inferential questions require answers that require context clues. Inferential questions are tougher to answer because they can have more than one correct answer. In reading comprehension exercises, answers to inferential questions cannot be found in the text, but they are supported by evidence in the text. Answers to inferential questions shed light on why and how.

Examples of Inferential Questions

Inferential questions ask for answers that you arrive at by gleaning background information and finding a conclusion without allowing your own opinion to color the answer. Examples include: "Why does the concert start at 7:30?" "How did you manage to finish your paper by the deadline?" and "Why did she choose to write about such a difficult topic?"