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  1. #1
    dihen is offline Member
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    Default responding to negative questions?

    I know that if I respond a question like "Is he not here?" with "yes", it means "Yes, he is here", not "No, he is not here". But if I respond "Is it that he's not here?" with "yes", what does it mean? Is it "He's not here" or "He's here"?

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    The most likely answer is 'No, he's not here'. If he's here, then we would probably answer with 'Oh yes, he is', where 'oh' helps to make things clearer.

  3. #3
    dihen is offline Member
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    I very often have difficulty interpreting any questions with negative words, such as, "not", 'never', 'no', 'none', 'neither', 'nor', 'nothing', and so on.
    `
    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "It is if you..." (it sounds as if it means "It is (never possible) if you...")
    `
    -----------------
    Is it impossible to respond to a negative with 'yes', but keeping the negation, like this?
    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "Yes, it's never possible."
    `
    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "Yes, I did nothing."
    `
    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "Yes, I didn't do anything."
    `
    Is it possible to repond with 'right'?
    `
    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "Right, it's never possible."
    `
    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "Right, I did nothing."
    `
    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "Right, I didn't do anything."
    `
    And 'no' with positive?
    `
    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "No, it's still possible sometimes."
    `
    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "No! I did something!"
    `
    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "No! I did do something!"

  4. #4
    matilda Guest

    Talking Re: responding to negative questions?

    in my opinion, the best answer is a complete one. you must say a complete reply for not making confusion, as iI always do

  5. #5
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    Here's a trick that works well for my students.

    question: Is it that he's not here?
    answer: Yes, (you're right) he isn't here.
    answer: No, (you're wrong) he is here.

    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: Yes, (you're right) it's never possible.
    answer: No, (that's not what I think is true) it could be possible.

    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "Yes, (that's right) I did nothing."
    answer: "No, (that's wrong) I did do something."

    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "Yes, (that's right) I didn't do anything."
    answer: "No, (that's wrong) I did do something."

    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "(That's) Right, it's never possible."

    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "(That's) Right, I did nothing."

    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "(That's) Right, I didn't do anything."

    question: "Is it never possible?"
    answer: "No, (I don't believe that) it's still possible sometimes."

    question: "You did nothing?"
    answer: "No (that's not true)! I did something!"

    question: "You didn't do anything?"
    answer: "No (that's not true)! I did do something!"

    All the best,

  6. #6
    dihen is offline Member
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    I noticed the most native speakers say "why not" or "probably not" when responding to negative questions. It it true that most native speakers respond like that?
    `
    example:
    `
    statement: "I haven't seen it yet."
    comment: "Why not?" (rather than "Why?")
    `
    question: "Do you not want to?"
    response: "Probably not." (rather than "Probably.")
    `
    For those examples, is it more ambiguous if I respond with just "why" and "probably", or no?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    yes :)

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen
    I noticed the most native speakers say "why not" or "probably not" when responding to negative questions. It it true that most native speakers respond like that?
    `
    example:
    `
    statement: "I haven't seen it yet."
    comment: "Why not?" (rather than "Why?")
    `
    question: "Do you not want to?"
    response: "Probably not." (rather than "Probably.")
    `
    For those examples, is it more ambiguous if I respond with just "why" and "probably", or no?

  8. #8
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen
    I noticed the most native speakers say "why not" or "probably not" when responding to negative questions. It it true that most native speakers respond like that?
    That's a difficult question to answer, dihen. I'm but one of many native speakers.

    statement: "I haven't seen it yet."
    comment: "Why (not)?" <short for, "Why haven't you seen it yet?">

    question: "Do you not want to?"
    response: "Probably not." <short for, "No, I probably do not want to.">

    question: "Do you not want to?"
    response: "Probably." <ambiguous: "I probably (don't) want to">

  9. #9
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen
    I know that if I respond a question like "Is he not here?" with "yes", it means "Yes, he is here", not "No, he is not here".
    Actually, if you just answered "Yes" to that question, the next question would almost certainly be: "Do you mean, yes he is, or yes he isn't?". English doesn't actually have a well-defined set of rules for responding to negative questions.

    However, even if you are responding to a positive question, it is still much better style to use the short answer. This has the following pattern:

    Yes, [subject] [auxiliary verb].
    No, [subject] [auxiliary verb] not.

    That makes things much clearer:

    Is he here? Yes, he is. / No, he isn't.
    Isn't he here? Yes, he is. / No, he isn't.

    Absolutely no confusion now.

    And in your example:

    Is it that he's not here? Yes, it is. / No, it isn't.

    But in this case, even with just "yes" and "no", it's not a big problem, because the main clause is the bit with: "Is it...?" and that's the question you are asking here. In fact, "he" (whoever he is) is not here, there's no question about that. The question is: Is it his absence? Yes or no?

    "It" here might be "the thing that is worrying you". Someone is upset, and you want to know why. "He" isn't here -- is that the reason for this person being upset?

    On the other hand: "Is it true that he's not here?" Now we're asking a different question: There is a rumour that he is not here. Is it true? It's clear then that the answer is "yes" if the rumours are true and he is not here; and "no" if the rumours are untrue and he is here.

    In both these examples, the actual question is not negative. The negative is in a relative clause.

  10. #10
    dihen is offline Member
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    Default Re: responding to negative questions?

    Are these impossible?
    `
    question: "Is it never possible?"
    response: "It is." (meaning "It is never possible.")
    `
    question: "It is never possible?"
    response: "It is." (meaning "It is never possible.")
    `
    question: "He is not going to buy it?"
    response: "He is." (meaning "He is not going to buy it.")
    `
    question: "Is he not going to buy it?"
    response: "He is." (meaning "He is not going to buy it.")
    `
    question: "He is going to not buy it?"
    response: "He is." (meaning "He is going to not buy it.")
    `
    question: "Is he going to not buy it?"
    response: "He is." (meaning "He is going to not buy it.")
    `
    request: "Please don't do that."
    response: "Okay." (meaning "Okay, I won't do that.)
    `
    ---------------
    Also, I seem to use an interesting rule, which does not exist in Standard English, of course.
    `
    For "You don't know?" or "Do you not know?", I respond with "Yes" to mean "Yes, I don't know.", but for "Don't you know?", I respond with "Yes" to mean "Yes I do know.", so for me, whether the negation is inverted together with the auxiliary verb makes a big difference.
    Last edited by dihen; 30-Oct-2006 at 05:08.

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