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Answer vs Respond vs Reply vs Rejoin vs Retort

Answer, respond, reply, rejoin and retort (and their corresponding nouns answer, response, reply, rejoinder, retort) mean to say or write or sometimes to do something (or something that is said, written, or done) in return (as to a question, a call, a request, or a charge).

One answers or makes an answer to a question, call, or appeal, or to the person or thing questioning, calling, or appealing, when one gives the attention or service demanded by one's situation or office or required by courtesy

  • answer a query
  • answer the telephone
  • answer the doorbell

In specific collocations the words carry more definite implications; thus, in answering an accusation one gives a detailed and sometimes, by suggestion, a successful defense; in having the answers to all the problems one has their correct solutions.

  • he could talk; he could assert; produce opinions and information, but he couldn't meet or answer arguments
    Rose Macaulay

One responds or makes a response to a person who endeavors to elicit an answer or to a thing which serves as a stimulus when one reacts, often spontaneously and usually without resistance, to the influence.

  • respond immediately to an appeal for help
  • an unsatisfactory response to a call for recruits
  • when she smiled, even strangers responded
  • is it true that antiquated legal ideas prevent government from responding effectively to the demands which modern society makes upon ill
  • a trustful affectionate disposition . . . creates the response which it expects

Respond and response are used in preference to answer and reply when they refer to the set answers to supplications (as in a litany) or to questions (as in a catechism).

  • he answered by a deep, gravely accented: "Thanks, I will," as though it were a response in church

One replies or makes a reply (as to a question, charge, argument, or salute or to a questioner or an accuser) when one answers so as to cover the same ground as the question or charge; thus, one may answer a letter by merely acknowledging its receipt, but one replies to it only when one answers all its questions or touches on all points requiring attention; an answer to a salute is uncertain in its nature if no details are given; a reply to a salute usually indicates that the salute has been returned in the same form or in kind and spirit.

Often reply is equivalent to answer back (as by echoing, protesting, or when the question is rhetorical agreeing).

  • the nymph exulting fills with shouts the sky; the walls, the woods, and long canals reply
  • theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die
  • who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply

One rejoins or makes a rejoinder when one answers a reply.

  • the assembly took the governor's reply . . . into consideration, and prepared a suitable rejoinder

The terms are often used to indicate an answer to an unspoken question or to an objection.

  • "He can't sleep comfortably on that ship," she said. "In his present state," rejoined Andrew, "he might not sleep comfortably anywhere"
  • to an abstract objection an abstract rejoinder suffices

One retorts or makes a retort to an explicit or implicit charge, criticism, or attack when one responds with an answer that is in effect a retaliation, or a counter charge, criticism, or attack.

  • it amused me . . . to read the interview and learn that I had . . . uttered a number of trenchant sayings upon female novelists. But the amusement changed to dismay when the ladies began to retort