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    #1

    Are you not?

    Hi all! Have a quick grammar question:

    Answering the question "Are you not allowed to tell me?" with only a yes or no seems ambiguous to me, but I can't seem to explain the grammatical reason to my wife who is a native Japanese speaker.

    To me as a native English speaker, answering with a yes would make me think the person is not allowed to tell me, as in: "Yes, you're correct, I am not allowed to tell you." She sees it as the opposite, with the 'not' reversing the question instead of the answer.

    If I was asking the question and someone answered with only a yes or no, I would follow up with something like: "Yes you're allowed, or yes you're not allowed?". If answering, I would want to answer with more information, like "No, that's not it, I'm allowed to tell you".

    Where I get tripped up in my explanation is here: Using "Aren't", still a negative, reverses the question, not the answer:

    "Aren't you allowed to tell me?" Yes (I am allowed). Which is opposite from "Are you not", and that's where she's confused.


    Can someone explain either why I'm wrong or the grammatical reasoning for this? She's looking for a hard rule that explains this mess. :) Thanks!

  1. BobK's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Are you not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darkhands View Post
    ... She's looking for a hard rule that explains this mess. :) Thanks!
    Well she'll be lookling for quite a while. The question you raise is one that's been dogging English for centuries. The latest state of play, in English, is that a response to a negative question refers to the verb negated in the question. So:

    'Aren't you coming?'/ 'No'*

    The single thing I know about Japanese is that in Japanese the answer would be 'Yes [I'm not]' - the response refers to the truth value of the statement in the question. (I may still have the book I read this in when I was studying Linguistics 40 years ago; but don't hold your breath )

    So, in your particular context (communicating with someone whose first language is Japanese), repeating the verb is the only way.

    *This seems to be on the change (back to the 'truth-value' meaning discussed in the next para. I recently asked my daughter 'Don't you want some coffee?', and she said 'Yes'. She was surprised when I brought her one.

    b

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