From 『スーツ』

A: ど…どうしたの?(Seeing B is unhappy: "What's going on with you?")

B: どうしたのって?人が死んだ。("You know what's wrong! Someone died!")

What I usually hear is that the part before a quotative って repeats what the other party just said. What does か add to the tone of the rhetorical question?

  • I think どうした as a rhetorical question effectively has to mean どうもしない ("nothing happens" or "nothing is wrong"). Something important did happen in this context, so this seems to be an ordinary question within a quote. (Or my understanding of the rhetorical question may be wrong...)
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 3:10
  • @naruto I guess my question is: how is 「どうしたのって?」 different from 「どうしたのかって?」 in similar contexts?
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 3:20

2 Answers 2


どうしたの and どうしたのか are the same except that the latter is usually regarded as the literary style. The のか style is fairly bookish and stiff at the end of a sentence, but it's less so in the middle of a sentence. Here, どうしたのって and どうしたのかって are almost the same except that the latter may sound a little more serious/formal.

  • 昨日は何食べたのって聞かれた。(informal)
  • 昨日は何を食べたの(と)聞かれました。(formal)

(But is that really a rhetorical question? A typical rhetorical question is something that implies "no". Something like 誰が分かるのか ("Who knows?") is a rhetorical question because it implies "no one knows", but in this case どうしたの is just an ordinary question and it does not imply "nothing happened" or "nothing is wrong". Person B simply quoted it without changing the meaning of the question itself.)

You probably know this, but if だ/です were used, it would add a nuance of accusation/shock (see this).

  • どうしたのって?
  • どうしたのかって?
  • どうしたのですって?
  • どうしたのかですって?
  • I've always thought of rhetorical questions as the opposite of answer-seeking questions, so to speak. I am not sure they necessarily have to lead to or imply a "no" answer. Per Wikipedia: "A rhetorical question is one for which the questioner does not expect a direct answer" E.g. A: You know what I hate about you? B: What? A is not really seeking an answer from B. Rather, they use a rhetorical question as an opener for what they want to tell B.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 4:21
  • @EddieKal So...are you saying "ど…どうしたの" is not a question seeking a direct answer?
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 4:36
  • By rhetorical question, I was actually referring to 「どうしたのかって?」 That's why I asked about か's function in rhetorical questions and why it wasn't an exact quote. Sorry for the confusion.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 4:39
  • @EddieKal So no one is implying "nothing happens/happened", so どうしたの(か) by itself is not a rhetorical question. って is just a quotation marker; people often repeat someone's statement when surprised (e.g., A: "It's Bob." B: "Bob!?"), but this "Bob!?" is probably not a rhetorical question even if it has a dubious overtone. So...where's the rhetorical question? Or are you saying B turned A's question into a rhetorical question while "quoting" it?
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 4:50
  • Well, I could be wrong but "Bob?" could be a rhetorical question. If it's "I am not sure I heard you correctly. Did you say Bob?" it is seeking affirmation, thus not rhetorical. But let's say Alice says to Bob "Call Bob and ask him to come at once!" without realizing she is talking to Bob. Bob goes, "Bob?" That's a rhetorical question in my opinion, because here Bob is implying, "I am standing right here. You are talking to Bob!" And doesn't って work the same way in Japanese? Example from Wiktionary: 「どこ行ってたの」「どこって買い物だけど。あなたが買ってこいって言ったじゃないの」 Here 「どこって」 isn't asking for new information, is it?
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 5:17

This sounds like incredulity.


Are you asking what happened? Someone died.

Without context, I'm not really sure what the original question really meant. Were they asking "What happened?" or "What's going on with you?" If it's the later, then

You asking me, "what's going on with me?" Someone died.

か here is signaling a degree of incredulity that whoever asked the question in the first place asked what they did.

  • I have added more context to make it clear. Thanks!
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 3:00
  • But the same incredulity can be expressed without か.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 7:29

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