Answering a negative question

thierrydh

Member
Belgium - French
Dear all,

How am I supposed to answer a negative question like :

- Don't you wear glasses?

a) "No, I don't wear glasses"/ "Yes, I do wear glasses" ?
b) "Yes, I don't wear glasses" / "No, I do wear glasses" ?

In French, my mother tongue, It would be (a). But it seems that, in English, it's (b). Could someone confirm?

(To be precise about the French way, "Yes" is not that case translated by the common "Oui" but by "Si" which means "On the contrary, yes")

Greetings from Brussels, Belgium
 
  • Malti

    Member
    Devonlish
    It can be either way in English, although in my experience I think b) is indeed more common.

    It can depend on how the asker is asking though. So if they mean "Don't you wear glasses?" as in "I thought you did wear glasses, is that true?" then I think a) might become more likely, but if it's more "You don't wear glasses, do you?" where the asker's assumption is that you do not wear glasses, then "No, I do." will probably happen more.

    Just a yes or no will usually be ambiguous though, and can be skipped altogether in favour of the "I do/don't".
     

    Saritalove

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    - Don't you wear glasses?

    a) "No, I don't wear glasses"/ "Yes, I do wear glasses" is definitely the correct form, to my ears. The other sounds strange.

    your b) would only sound normal to me in response to the following:

    -You don't wear glasses?!!

    b) "Yes, that's right, I don't wear glasses" / "No, I do wear glasses!" ?
     

    Infininja

    Senior Member
    American English
    Logically, b sounds correct to me, but grammatically I have no idea. There is no equivalent to "si" in English that I know of to stem the confusion.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    For me it's neither. In reply to a negative question, ie "don't you...", I'd say

    No, I don't wear glasses and
    No, I do wear glasses.

    As others have suggested simply replying "yes" or "no" would be ambiguous (certainly in writing). In line with what I put above simply answering "yes" would be both ambiguous and a bit odd to my ear, and I think that answering "no" would be ambiguous but possibly differentiated by the way you said "no". A simple down tone, I think, would suggest "no I don't, you're correct" and a wavering high low high tone would suggest "no, I do, you're wrong" (and if you say it with enough incredulity perhaps suggestion you think your interlocutor is an idiot:D).


    EDIT - moderation note, please no discussion of the way that French gets around the problem with different words for "yes" since this is the English Only forum - the French forum would be happy to accommodate that discussion.
     
    Last edited:

    CarlosMu

    New Member
    English - United States
    There's no rule about this.

    If the person responds with a simple "Yes" or "No", the asker will frequently have to ask a follow-up question to clarify. For example, "Is that Yes you do wear glasses or yes you don't wear glasses?"

    In other words, there's no general understanding what a "Yes" means to such a question.
     
    Last edited:

    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I agree with Bigote Blanco and sanitalove that a) is the correct answer in English. I have read discussions of this type of question, and my recollection is that generally in the Western world negative questions are answered as in English and French, whereas in Eastern languages they are answered in the opposite way. Thus in a cross-cultural setting it is important not to answer with just "Yes" or "No".

    "Wouldn't you like a cup of coffee?" works the same way. I would answer either "No, thank you, I don't want any" or "Yes, please, I would like some".
     

    thierrydh

    Member
    Belgium - French
    Thank you to all of you!

    I keep the idea that, anyway, answering a negative question just by yes or no would be ambiguous, so it's always better to precise "I do/I don't", "I am/I am not", etc.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm rather surprised at some of the answers here.

    Don't you wear glasses? The suggestion is that you don't, that the response is going to be negative, and you confirm that by saying 'no, I don't'. Yes, I don't strikes me as an intolerable mixture of negative and affirmative forms.

    However, if someone says Don't you wear glasses? and you wish to say that you do, you need a form which acknowledges the suggestion that you don't, but make the point that you actually do: well, I do normally, but etc... would do very well. No, I do, and yes, I don't are absolutely out in my view. Yes, I do doesn't acknowledge the negative bias of the question and, therefore, won't do either, I think.

    Do you wear glasses? on the other hand is neutral about a probable answer and can very well, and without ambiguity, be answered with a yes or a no.
     
    Last edited:

    neal41

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Don't you wear glasses? The suggestion is that you don't, that the response is going to be negative, and you confirm that by saying 'no, I don't'. Yes, I don't strikes me as an intolerable mixture of negative and affirmative forms.

    For me, the suggestion is just the opposite -- that you do wear glasses.

    However, if someone says Don't you wear glasses? and you wish to say that you do, you need a form which acknowledges the suggestion that you don't, but make the point that you actually do: well, I do normally, but etc... would do very well. No, I do, and yes, I don't are absolutely out in my view..
    Consider the following sequence of questions and then answers. A speaker of Chinese would consider "Yes, I don't" as a fully reasoable and understandable response.

    Don't you wear glasses?
    Do you not wear glasses?
    Is it true that you do not wear glasses?

    Yes, it is true that I do not wear glasses.
    Yes, I do not wear glasses.
    Yes, I don't wear glasses.
    Yes, I don't.

    Tag questions like "Snow is black, isn't it?" work the same way. A speaker of English anwers, "No, it isn't". A Chinese speaker answers, "Yes, it isn't".
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Two points:

    Don't you wear glasses? implies, to me: I thought you did. In other words, it's very similar to You wear glasses, don't you?

    To which the most likely answers, to my mind, are (1) Yes, I do and (2) No, I don't.
     

    boriszcat

    Senior Member
    English - US and Dude - a California dialect
    It is possible to say in English, "Yes, I don't." but it doesn't sound very natural. I believe this is the point being taught in the original a) or b) question. It's possible, but if you're not a native speaker, you don't want to wait your whole life for the one rare situation where it would make sense.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Two points:

    Don't you wear glasses? implies, to me: I thought you did. In other words, it's very similar to You wear glasses, don't you?

    To which the most likely answers, to my mind, are (1) Yes, I do and (2) No, I don't.
    Don't you wear glasses? I've said that I think the suggestion is negative, that 'you' don't wear glasses, so I had better elaborate, as we seem to disagree, though I'm not certain that we are at odds.

    I'm keen not to be at the mercy of the single imagined context, but I can only think of one circumstance in which people would be likely to say this: when they thought the other person wore them, and then saw them not wearing them, e.g. for reading: Don't you wear glasses? - I thought you did wear them, but here you are without them. A stronger form of the question would be Don't you wear glasses then?

    The negative element in the question, for me, is the suggestion that you don't, even though 'I' previously thought you did.

    I don't see this as at all the same as You wear glasses, don't you?, which one might ask someone to discover whether they do or don't, but suggesting that you think they do. You wear glasses? is a way of asking Do you wear glasses? to which, of course, a yes or no answer is entirely permissible.
     

    catherine1999

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Consider the following sequence of questions and then answers. A speaker of Chinese would consider "Yes, I don't" as a fully reasoable and understandable response.

    Don't you wear glasses?
    Do you not wear glasses?
    Is it true that you do not wear glasses?

    Yes, it is true that I do not wear glasses.
    Yes, I do not wear glasses.
    Yes, I don't wear glasses.
    Yes, I don't.

    Tag questions like "Snow is black, isn't it?" work the same way. A speaker of English anwers, "No, it isn't". A Chinese speaker answers, "Yes, it isn't".
    Yeah, a chinese would answer it that way only when he(she) is speaking Chinese.with English we as learners lack of good sense of English Language, so there're some mechanical rules for us, from textbook, whatever A asks, the situation is negative, we say no, otherwise,yes.
    Even in Chinese only one "yes" "no" cannot completely assure the questioner,he(she) would probably ask more for sure.
     
    Last edited:

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Am I the only one who would use "no" for both then?

    Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No I don't, I'm too tired.
    Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No, I do - I just want to finish this letter first.

    This is what I would say - albeit using very different intonation for each.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Am I the only one who would use "no" for both then?

    Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No I don't, I'm too tired.
    Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No, I do - I just want to finish this letter first.

    This is what I would say - albeit using very different intonation for each.
    I could say both, Timpeac, but I think the no has different force in the two cases:

    1. Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No I don't, I'm too tired.

    Here the no is the answer to implied question do you want to go to the cinema? and the I don't is confirming that answer and acknowledging the negative bias of the question, the fact that it is clearly expecting the answer no.

    2. Don't you want to go to the cinema then? No, I do - I just want to finish this letter first.

    Here the no is not an answer to the question do you want to go to the cinema? but a denial of the negative suggestion in the question, that you don't want to go to the cinema. This is made immediately explicit by the I do.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top