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07.30.2021

What Are … Some Questions About Jeopardy!

Guest host LeVar Burton and contestants Matt Amodio, Dana Rosner and Bryan Cracchiolo on the Jeopardy! set.

Over the many years that Jeopardy! has been on the air, we've experienced some rare scenarios that require us to refer back to the official rules of the game. Streaking champ Matt Amodio has received a lot of attention lately for his unorthodox use of "What's...?" as a template for all responses — be they animal, vegetable or mineral. Viewers and grammar police alike have a lot of questions about what's acceptable. We've got some answers. 

What's ... in a question?

The rules state, "...all contestant responses to an answer must be phrased in the form of a question." It's that simple. Jeopardy! doesn't require that the response is grammatically correct. Further, the three-letter name of a British Invasion rock band can be a correct response all by itself ("The Who?"), and even "Is it...?" has been accepted. So, Matt Amodio's no-frills approach is unique but well with guidelines. 

Why do contestants respond in the form of a question anyway?

In the early 1960s, when entertainer/producer Merv Griffin was trying to devise a new quiz show format, his then-wife Julann suggested that he give the answer to contestants and have them respond with a question. As Merv told the story, she said to him "5,280." He responded, "How many feet are in a mile?" The approach created a new twist to the popular genre and the rest is history. 

What happens if contestants respond without a question?

If a contestant responds to a clue without putting it in the form of a question in the Jeopardy! round, they'll receive a reminder about phrasing from the host or contestant department before the Double Jeopardy! round. If contestants forget their phrasing in the Double Jeopardy! round, the response will not be accepted and they will be penalized the amount of the clue. Which brings us to Final Jeopardy!...

Final Jeopardy! Tip

At Final Jeopardy! the contestant coordinators are on stage to confirm that wagers are entered properly and to brief the contestants through the final steps of the game. Part of that briefing includes giving the contestants the appropriate "Who" or "What" for the final clue. 

Don't get cute! 

So if Matt's abbreviated style is acceptable, is it okay to go in the other direction and get a little creative with phrasing? The short answer is yes. But don't.

Questions like "What would occur in the event that...?" or "Could it possibly be that...?" eat up game time as well as brain power. Contestants are always reminded to keep their response short, and keep the game moving. And that can make all the difference between a third place finish and setting a new record high.