Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"

Do you know what “that’s a good question” means?

In today’s episode, a student of All Ears English has asked what it means when someone says “that’s a good question.”

Listen in and find out have native English speakers use this phrase and when they usually use it.

A Good Question

Aubrey asks Lindsay if she thinks people should recycle more.

Lindsay answers by saying: “Hmmm… that’s a good question. Yeah! I do actually. I recently gone on a couple of trips where I stayed with family and friends and they didn’t recycle and I thought “Oh my god! It’s 2022, how are we not recycling?” So yeah, I do think people should recycle.”

Aubrey agrees with Lindsay and mentions that recycling is a topic that often comes up in IELTS exams.

But she will be focusing on the first sentence that Lindsay said when she answered the question.

Lindsay explains that she used the expression “that’s a good question” to buy her time to think before answering the question asked by Aubrey.

You don’t have to rush into your answers.

This is known as a filler phrase you can use to give you enough time to think about what to say and make your answer interesting.

Is It A Good Question?

Today’s episode has been inspired by Sandy, one of our All Ears English listeners from China.

Sandy asked the following question:

“Would you please teach us when people mean “that’s a good question”, does it mean it is a good question or the question is hard to answer?”

-SANDY

Lindsay explains that saying the phrase “that’s a good question” means that it is a thoughtful or interesting question rather than you don’t know how to answer it.

She advises that you can use this if you don’t know anything about the topic being asked.

You won’t say “that’s a good question” if asked about nanotechnology and you have nothing to answer.

There are phrases that you can use if you don’t know the answer to a question or if it’s difficult to answer.

This topic discussed by Lindsay and Aubrey is a high-level English skill you can unlock once you get the hang of it.

The phrase “that’s a good question” is also giving a compliment to the person asking you a question.

In episode AEE 718: The Best Way to Give A Top-Notch Compliment at Work in English, the All Ears English team share with you related to today’s topic.

Putting everything together elevates your English skills and helps you when you are talking to a friend or coworker.

How to Use “That’s A Good Question”

Aubrey mentions there are a lot of nuances when someone says “that’s a good question.”

For example, if a teacher says this in class, it reveals many things that the teacher means when saying it.

Here are three meanings of saying “that’s a good question” from a teacher:

  • It’s clear you’ve thought about what’s being discussed or taught and you have an interesting, thought-provoking question
  • You’ve brought up a point not previously considered
  • This can also be a way for a teacher to encourage participation. This will make other students feel comfortable asking questions. In a classroom setting, all questions are good questions because it is a space for learning. If you don’t ask, you won’t learn.

Lindsay asks Aubrey if saying “that’s a good question” can sound patronizing.

Aubrey says yes. It can sound like you are a bit superior.

She mentioned an example where when she was in college, there was a student who wasn’t paying attention and asked a question about a topic that was just recently discussed.

Their professor answered, “That’s a good question, can someone answer the question?”

It was said in a sarcastic and patronizing way and one of the students answered her starting with “As discussed earlier…”

Lindsay then asked if the student who wasn’t listening caught on that the professor was being sarcastic.

Aubrey said yes and the student felt a little sheepish.

Being sheepish means feeling a little embarrassed or foolish.

That’s a bonus word in today’s episode.

Aubrey asks Lindsay what if a question is really hard to answer, what can you say?

Lindsay shares these phrases you can use for questions that are hard to answer:

  • That’s a tough question
  • That’s a difficult question
  • That’s a tricky one.
  • That one has stumped me!

Roleplays

Aubrey and Lindsay do a series of role plays to show how you can use the expressions taught in today’s episode.

Scenario #1: Business meeting, a co-worker has asked a question that was answered recently making it clear they weren’t paying attention.

Aubrey: What impact has our recent volunteer work had on public opinion?

Lindsay: We discussed that while reviewing our most recent survey. If you can get notes from Jan that would be great and that way we can move on to the next agenda item.

Aubrey: Ok sounds good. I must have missed that, sorry.

This roleplay is a way to handle the awkwardness of answering a question from someone who didn’t pay attention to what you said.

Scenario #2: A co-worker asks you a question that is personal that you do not wish to answer.

Aubrey: What religion are you, do you mind me asking?

Lindsay: Oh yeah, I’d rather not say. You know what they say – never discuss politics or religion!

Aubrey: Yeah, true! What about hobbies? Have you gotten into anything fun lately?

There are questions that are inappropriate to ask.

So this is a good way to politely avoid answering a question.

Takeaway

Saying ‘that’s a good question’ is a great way to let someone know you think their question is thought-provoking or to encourage them.

Today’s vocabulary also gives you great ways to express that a question is difficult to answer.

Unfortunately, not all questions are good questions, so if it’s not a good question use today’s phrases to tactfully respond.

What questions do you think are good conversation starters?

Share it in the comments below and let’s see how others can respond while using “that’s a good question.”

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