Yes (I agree, it can't). Yes (it can!).

IlyaTretyakov

Senior Member
Russian
I'd like to figure out how 'yes' and 'no' work in English.
  • This disease can't be cured.
If the response is "Yes", does it mean 1) that the person agrees "Yes, it can't be cured"
or 2) that the person says "Yes, it can be cured!".

If the response is "No", does it mean 1) that the person disagrees "No, it can be cured!"
or 2) that the person says "No, it can't be cured!".

Or it can be either (depending on further context even if there's none, for example, it's a one word reply)?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    (1) The response wouldn't be just "Yes". It might be "Yes, it can" - meaning Yes, it can be cured. [= I disagree with you]

    (2) The response could be just "No". That would mean No, it can't be cured. [= I agree with you]

    -----
    cross-posted. I see heypresto and I agree in part and disagree in part:)
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The only likely response to a statement that involves "yes" or "no" is a direct contradiction. "Yes" will be used with a positive verb in the response, and "no" will be used with a negative verb in the response:
    A: This disease can't be cured.​
    B: Yes it can!​
    A: This disease can be cured.​
    B: No it can't!​

    Using "yes" or "no" to agree with a statement would be unusual. Disagreeing with just "yes" or "no", and not using a clause, would also be unusual.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    No in your context would indicate agreement with the statement that it can’t be cured. Yes probably doesn’t indicate anything.

    As you suspect, context is extremely important. In different circumstances « no » could mean either disagreement or agreement with the statement.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    English used to have "Yea" = you are correct/I agree, and "Nay" = you are incorrect/I disagree. But, except in specialised contexts, these are no longer current.
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    SSBE (Standard Southern British English)
    English used to have "Yea" = you are correct/I agree, and "Nay" = you are incorrect/I disagree. But, except in specialised contexts, these are no longer current.
    Pity. This would have saved a Chinese student of mine and his English landlady a few problems. Here's the scenario.

    Student: I'm going to London today.
    Landlady: So, you won't be home for dinner tonight, then?
    Student: Yes.
    Landlady: OK.

    Can anyone guess what the outcome was? What happened when dinner time came round that evening?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In general, if you go for the preferred response (agreement), we do not expect a lot of elaboration. That is why 'no' alone can signal agreement; 'yes' alone to signal disagreement does not work.

    In Wordy's example, since the student gave the unelaborated answer, I would assume the student is agreeing that his landlady that he isn't back for dinner, but getting the polarity wrong because of his Chinese background.
     
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