yes or no

Yes or No


Yes or no, that is the question.


Some years ago, I put a question to one of my pupils, who was busy daydreaming at the moment.


T: What is the biggest animal in the world?

S: Yes, sir.


His answer brought about roars of laughter. He had thought a simple YES would help him get through, for he was a smart boy. But YES here is not the right response to my question.


We use YES/NO to respond to general questions or simply YES/NO questions, as they are popularly termed. A general question starts with a helping verb. All the following questions are of this category.


Are you happy?

Do you like sports?

Can you dance?

Have you done the dishes, dear?

You toured Beijing last summer, didn’t you?


In the above examples, the words in bold are helping verbs. They help the main verb to express time, ability and other meanings. ARE and DO show that we are talking about the present; HAVE shows that the action is completed; and DID shows that the action is over.


It is quite simple to give a response to general questions. Look at this.


— Are you happy?

— Yes, I am.


— Are you happy?

— No, I am not.


So if our answer is positive, we use YES and follow it with subject + helping verb. If our answer is negative, we use NO, followed by subject + helping verb + not. Here is another example.


— Do you like sports?

— Yes, I do.


— Do you like sports?

— No, I don’t.


In the negative response, we normally use a shortened form of “helping verb + not”. So we say don’t instead of do not. However, am not is an exception.


This grammar point can be tricky for Chinese learners of English, for there are occasions where English and Chinese differ. Look at the following two dialogues and compare their answers. Are their answers the same?


— Can you dance?

— Yes, I can.


— Can’t you dance?

— Yes, I can.


It is clear that the two questions are responded to in the same manner. But for Chinese learners of English, the second dialogue is confusing.


OK, here is the rule.


When we answer a general question, always remember to use YES (NO), subject + helping verb (not). If our answer is a positive sentence, use YES. Otherwise, use NO. In English, the way a question is asked does not make any difference to the way it is answered.


Try another pair.


— You are stupid boys, aren’t you?

— No, we aren’t.


— You are not stupid boys, are you?

— No, we aren’t.


Let me repeat this point: Say yes if your answer is an affirmative sentence; say no if it is a negative one.


Before I close this talk, I would like to remind my pals not to say just YES or NO. A good and complete answer should include the second part “subject + helping verb”.


— Are you Shengliver?

— Yes, I am.


— Shengliver, you haven’t finished your grammar talk, have you?

— Yes, I have. See you next time.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. 心雨Fangrace
    Dec 22, 2007 @ 13:54:38

    I have great pleasure in visiting your blog,and enjoy learning here.Thanks ,my dear teacher and friend!!


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