Glasses. Are They Half Full or Half Empty?

One of my mates drowned last night in a half-empty bath tub. Unusual really, as he was normally so optimistic…

According to Wikipedia, the source of all correct information everything on the internet, asking someone if a glass is half full or half empty is a very philosophical question. The answer depends on your perspective and is meant to indicate whether you are an optimist or a pessimist; if you perceive that the glass is half full you are supposed to be an optimistic person, whereas if you perceive the glass as being half empty you are a pessimist.

It is such a small question but the answer to it can change from person to person, depending on how they analyse it.

However… knowing what their answer to the question is supposed to indicate, people often answer in a way that they think favourably reflects their situation. This negates any analysis that could have been offered from a “free will” answer.

It is the sort of question that you believe you know how to answer, because previous experience has taught what the answer is supposed to mean.

So I’ve decided to answer the question once and for all, to alleviate all uncertainty relating to it and give you the chance to potentially annoy everyone who ever asks it.

So, IS the glass half full or half empty? I’m going to give you tips on how to analyse each glass you come across and give the correct, accurate answer based on the situation.

Firstly, it depends on what was happening to the glass directly before you analyse it. If it was being filled, it was on its way to being full, so THAT glass is half full. If it was being emptied, then it is half empty. If someone withdraws if from a tap and asks you the question, you know they were filling it and so it is half way to being filled, so it is half full. If they were drinking from it and it was being emptied, it is half empty.

Secondly, if you didn’t see what was happening to the glass directly before the question, make a logical guess. If it is on a table, someone was probably drinking from it and so it is half empty. If it was under a tap then it is half full.

Finally, bear in mind that there are far more occasions for a glass to be emptied that filled so, in the absence of any extra information, guessing “half empty” will be correct more often than not.

I had a conversation in our work bistro a few months ago. A colleague was removing their glass from under the water dispensing machine. Their glass had water in it at about the half way level.

“Oh, Craig, this is a good question for YOU – is this glass half full or half empty?” they beamed.

I looked at the glass and saw it was being taken from under the water dispensing machine.

“Its half full,” I stated.

“Ah, but IS it though?!?” they asked, as if to inspire some quizzical atmosphere.


“….But IS it though?!?” They were prompting me to, maybe, consider an alternative perspective.


“But some people might say it is half empty!” they smiled wryly.

“It was being filled. It is half full.” I explained, “If it was in the process of being emptied and you were emptying it, by drinking from it or pouring in into the sink, it would be half empty. But you were filling it, so it is half full.”

Later that day, after taking my reasoning into consideration and thinking about how to outsmart me, they posed another theoretical question. (It must have been playing on their mind for a good few hours.)

“What about a glass of beer on a table in a pub that had been left there for a few hours? You wouldn’t know if that was half empty or half full!” They grinned.

“That would be half empty. If it’s on a table it must have been being drunk from, not filled up. The pumps don’t reach to the tables.”

“What about a glass that had been there for weeks, that had been filled from a jug weeks before?”

I thought for a moment… “That would be half empty…”

“AHA!” they jumped in, “it was being filled from a jug so shouldn’t it be half full by your reasoning?”

“You said it was filled ‘weeks ago’ – if it had been filled so long ago, it was probably evaporating.”

“Oh…. right……” Never before have I actually seen someone say ” 🙁 ”

They didn’t speak to me for a few days.

By all means use this simple method to argue with people who ask you this question, but please heed my warning : using logical thinking and conclusive arguments may cause people to take offence. Just remember, it doesn’t mean they’re right, it just means they don’t like being wrong.

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