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Thread: Answer "no" to a negative question

  1. #1
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    Answer "no" to a negative question

    For years I could not understand how to answer negative questions.

    "I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?"

    I would always reply:

    "No, I got it last week." (instead of "Yes, I got it last week.")

    "Yes, I haven't got it yet." (instead of "No, I haven't got it yet.")

    I'd like to know if anybody else has ever had this problem.

    When I was learning German at school, I would invariably say "Doch, I haven't got it yet" because I would substitute "doch" for the word "yes" in my own answers.

    I'd like to know if there are any languages that have a word used to mean "no" as an answer to a negative question.
    I'm an eternally confused linguist. I don't think I know any language really well.

  2. #2
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Confused Linguist
    For years I could not understand how to answer negative questions.
    I think almost everyone has already had such an experience.

    "I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?"

    I would always reply:

    "No, I got it last week." (instead of "Yes, I got it last week.")

    "Yes, I haven't got it yet." (instead of "No, I haven't got it yet.")
    Why so complicated? I would say "No, I haven't" or "Yes, I have".

    I'd like to know if anybody else has ever had this problem.
    I'm not sure. It works better in English than in German, I think. I would provide this example for better understanding:

    A: So, you wouldn't want to go to America, if you got the chance to?
    B: Yes - eh, I mean no, I wouldn't.

    When I was learning German at school, I would invariably say "Doch, I haven't got it yet" because I would substitute "doch" for the word "yes" in my own answers.
    A: Hast du es noch nicht gekriegt? (Haven't you got it yet?)
    1.B: Doch, habe ich. (Yes, I have.)
    2.B: Nein, habe ich nicht. (No, I haven't.)

    You can't use "ja" here, because it is an affirmative particle that can only be used after affirmative question. For negative questions, we have "doch" and "nein".

    I'd like to know if there are any languages that have a word used to mean "no" as an answer to a negative question.
    I have never thought about that, so I doubt it.
    Wer keine großen Dinge vollbringen kann, tue kleine in großem Maße. — Free translation of Napoleon Hill's citation —

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Whodunit
    Why so complicated? I would say "No, I haven't" or "Yes, I have".
    I could not understand why positive and negative questions were answered in the same manner since the questions themselves differed in content. My autistic brain is wired in a different way and has a hard time understanding how language works.
    I'm an eternally confused linguist. I don't think I know any language really well.

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Confused Linguist
    I could not understand why positive and negative questions were answered in the same manner since the questions themselves differed in content. My autistic brain is wired in a different way and has a hard time understanding how language works.
    I did not say that "No, I haven't" and "Yes, I have" have the same meaning. The wording "No, I haven't" is the answer to your original question. The phrase "Yes, I have" is the affirmative sentence (which is not asked about in this thread, to be honest) that corresponds to German "doch" (French "si").
    Wer keine großen Dinge vollbringen kann, tue kleine in großem Maße. — Free translation of Napoleon Hill's citation —

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    In Russian, the situation is funny enough. It seems that the thing is just the opposite in our language!
    I'll take your example phrase and show you its possible translation in Russian, OK?
    - Я отправил тебе это на прошлой неделе. Ты еще не получил? (Ya otpravil tebe eto na proshloj nedele. Ty eschyo ne poluchil?)
    - Да, я получил на прошлой неделе. (Da, ya poluchil na proshloj nedele.) - It's the positive answer. 'Da' means 'yes'.
    - Нет, еще не получил. (Net, eschyo ne poluchil.) - It's the negative answer. 'Net' is 'no', 'not'.
    Anna

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    In French, it is almost the same as English:

    Je t'ai envoyé une lettre la semaine passée, tu ne l'as pas reçue? (I sent you a letter last week, haven't you got it?)

    * Non, pas encore. (No, I haven't got it yet).
    * Si, je l'ai reçue hier, elle m'a fait plaisir. (Yes, I got it yesterday, I was pleased to receive it).

    You answer Non if you mean No ans 'Si' if you mean 'Yes'. It is quite difficult to explain because I had never thought about it before. It had always been clear in my head, but now that i have to explain how it works, that's true that I find it a bit difficult.

  7. #7
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Confused Linguist
    For years I could not understand how to answer negative questions.

    "I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?"

    I would always reply:

    "No, I got it last week." (instead of "Yes, I got it last week.")

    "Yes, I haven't got it yet." (instead of "No, I haven't got it yet.")

    I'd like to know if anybody else has ever had this problem.

    When I was learning German at school, I would invariably say "Doch, I haven't got it yet" because I would substitute "doch" for the word "yes" in my own answers.

    I'd like to know if there are any languages that have a word used to mean "no" as an answer to a negative question.
    Hi,

    I think the affirmative/negative answers shouldn't create confusion. You simply respond "YES" + affirmative phrase and "NO" + negative phrase.
    At least it's not confusing in English or Spanish. May be it is in other languages that I don't know.

    hope this helps...

  8. #8
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Etcetera, I'm a bit confused...I had learned that it was the opposite in Russian, i.e., a positive answer to a negative question means that you agree with the concept in the negative question. I'll bow to your judgment, as I assume you're a native speaker, but I wonder if this is a relatively new development in Russian. As I recall, it wasn't typical when I was a student in Russia thirty five years ago.

    This whole area is rather tedious and confusing, except maybe in German and French. In Japanese, a positive answer to a negative question normally means that you agree with the negative in the question: wakaranai ka? - hai - "don't you understand? - yes", i.e., I don't understand. The confusing part is that the person answering may actually shake their head in situations like this.

  9. #9
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Hello-

    It might help to look at the intention of the question. A negative question (at least in the languages mentioned here, as well as Latin, using the -ne suffix) expects a yes answer.

    "Have you got it?" is neutral; the person asking the question has no expectations about your response.

    "Haven't you got it?" clearly implies that the questioner believes that it should have arrived and expects you to say "yes."

    So it is perfectly appropriate to reply affirmatively to a negative question with "yes."

  10. #10
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas F. O'Gara
    In Japanese, a positive answer to a negative question normally means that you agree with the negative in the question: wakaranai ka? - hai - "don't you understand? - yes", i.e., I don't understand.
    It's such a relief to hear this. Apparently, I think like the Japanese.

    It took me years to understand that the rule is as hohodicestu put it: You simply respond "YES" + affirmative phrase and "NO" + negative phrase.

    Quote Originally Posted by Etcetera
    - Я отправил тебе это на прошлой неделе. Ты еще не получил? (Ya otpravil tebe eto na proshloj nedele. Ty eschyo ne poluchil?)
    - Да, я получил на прошлой неделе. (Da, ya poluchil na proshloj nedele.) - It's the positive answer. 'Da' means 'yes'.
    - Нет, еще не получил. (Net, eschyo ne poluchil.) - It's the negative answer. 'Net' is 'no', 'not'.
    Etcetera, could you explain this in English?

    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas F. O'Gara
    I had learned that it was the opposite in Russian, i.e., a positive answer to a negative question means that you agree with the concept in the negative question.
    Is it the same as in Japanese?

    So this means there is nothing wrong with me. Yay!
    I'm an eternally confused linguist. I don't think I know any language really well.

  11. #11
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    OK, I'll try to explain the thing. It's rather tricky, as the concept of positive/negative answers to a negative question is so confusing itself.
    If someone asks you in Russian: ""I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?", you can answer either 'Yes, I've got it last week' or 'No, I haven't'.
    Do I make more sense this time?
    Anna

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Etcetera
    OK, I'll try to explain the thing. It's rather tricky, as the concept of positive/negative answers to a negative question is so confusing itself.
    If someone asks you in Russian: ""I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?", you can answer either 'Yes, I've got it last week' or 'No, I haven't'.
    Do I make more sense this time?
    Oh, so it's the same as in English?
    I'm an eternally confused linguist. I don't think I know any language really well.

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Quote Originally Posted by Confused Linguist
    Oh, so it's the same as in English?
    So it would seem.
    I must be a little confused when I wrote my first post in this thread.
    Anna

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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    Found this on wikipedia:
    Irish lacks words which directly translate as "yes" or "no", and instead repeats verb in a question, possibly negated, to answer. People in Ireland have a tendency to repeat the verb, positively or negatively, instead of using "yes" or "no".
    • "Are you coming home soon?" "I am."
    • "Is your mobile charged?" "It isn't."
    If you don't learn from your mistakes, there's no sense making them.

  15. #15
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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    I'll try to clear up the confusion with Russian.

    In Russian it's possible and even very common to say "no" while making a positive statement - just as Confused Linguist would wish to have it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Confused Linguist
    "I sent it last week. Haven't you got it yet?"

    I would always reply:

    "No, I got it last week." (instead of "Yes, I got it last week.")
    You can say:

    Я отправил тебе письмо на прошлой неделе. Ты его до сих пор не получил? (I sent you a letter last week. Haven't you got it yet?)
    - Нет, получил, уже в пятницу. (No, I got it - as early as Friday.) Meaning: "I actually did." or "Sure I did!"

    The logic behind it is that denying the negative question you state that the doubted fact was actually true. It would seem to me that it sounds emphatic in comparison to the sentence offered by Etcetera (which is also possible).


    As an afterthought - perhaps the abovementioned example isn't very good to illustrate the point in Russian because most people wouldn't say either yes or no in this case, the would just repeat the verb to make an assertion (as in Irish :-).
    Ты его до сих пор не получил? (Haven't you got it yet?)
    - Получил. (Got it.)


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    Re: Answer "no" to a negative question

    In Cantonese, it's fine most of the time.
    你冇去到呀? 冇呀! Did you not go? No! (He did not go) (Anwering an negative question in the negative - results )
    你唔係差人呀? 唔係呀! You're not a police offer? No! (He is not a police officer) (Anwering an negative question in the negative - results )

    When 係 is used in the reply but not the question, things get complicated.
    你冇去到呀? 係呀! Did you not go? Yes! (That is ambiguous.)
    If I were the asker, I would say, "係呀,我冇去到呀!" 定係 "係呀,我有去到呀!" ('Yes, I didn't go', or 'yes, I did go'?)

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