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Soliciting Accounts With Why-Interrogatives in Conversation


  • Both authors contributed equally, with their names being listed in alphabetical order.

Galina B. Bolden; e-mail:


This article investigates the action of directly soliciting accounts with why-interrogatives (e.g., Why did you do that?). Using conversation analysis, this article argues that why-interrogatives are Janus-faced. On one hand, as types of questions, they index an epistemic gap between questioners and answerers and thus the possibility that answerers are able to provide accounts that questioners did not previously know about. On the other hand, why-interrogatives claim some epistemic access to the accountable event and communicate a stance that it does not accord with common sense and thus is inappropriate or unwarranted. Why-formatted interrogatives display a challenging stance toward the accountable event and responsible agent(s) and are, thus, frequently coimplicated in complaining, criticizing, and blaming.