Definition of complex question fallacy

The complex question fallacy is better known as the loaded question: a line of questioning that contains an unjustified assumption. It is not really a question. It’s a trap.

Example loaded question: How often do you beat your wife?

A complex question is a minefield.

A minefield of loaded questions.


Weaponized questions disrupt a meaningful exchange of ideas.

Weaponing questions can be very effective, as they place the opponent on the defensive.


There’s no easy win in this type of questioning. Have a look at this loaded question:


Here are some ways to deal with this:

  1. You can forcefully deny the insinuation. “I do not beat my wife!” Oops, you have taken the bait… The claim will now linger in the subconscious of the listeners, and people will assume there is probably a there there.

Here another fallacy comes into play: the Argument to Moderation, which is the fallacious belief that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle. That is not always the case.

Meanwhile, you have been waylaid by this loaded question, and have yet to state and defend your own position in the matter at hand – you’ve probably lost the argument and your reputation got a hit.

  1. You can ignore the insinuation, and smoothly maneuver the discussion back to the point you are trying to make. This is probably the best route if you manage to drown the lies about your marriage in a sea of words, but you risk that listeners may accept your violent streak as a fact. “Well, he didn’t deny that he beats his wife…”
  1. You may also forcefully deny and attack. A confrontational reaction may make you appear aggressive (in a debate, aggressors are often seen as the losers – a calm reply and a joke usually work best). Yet, if you decide to address the falsity head-on, a measured Ad Hominem or a Tu Quoque counter attack may be the most effective reactions.

“Who are you to say! As if you would know what a happy marriage is… You have been caught cheating and divorced three times. You may think all marriages are like that, but I actually have a good marriage. We treat each other with respect.”

You’ve now distracted from the false claim, and mirrored it, so your opponent will linger as the bad husband in the audience’s subconscious. Well done! The loaded question has backfired, but you still haven’t stated your own position in the argument at hand.

  1. Another interesting reaction would be: “How dare you insult my wife!” This is the straw man technique. First distort what is said away from you, and then attack the opponent for that distorted position. Replying to a loaded question with fallacious Straw Man argument would be enough to make anybody’s head spin – yet it happens all the time in political debates. No wonder everybody’s confused.


Have you recognized any loaded questions in the political debate? Let us know in the comments below!
Loaded question