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Yes and No

You might think that there is nothing easier in the English language than the two little words yes and no. Do you like Germany? - Yes! Can you speak good German? - No! What could be simpler? In fact, it may be more difficult than you think! See how you do answering the following quiz questions!

Quiz

1. Consider the following dialogue, and say whether the husband did or did not feed the cat.

2. Is the following dialogue possible in English, and if so, what does yes mean?

3. Imagine your friend says: John hasn't phoned yet and this is wrong because in fact John phoned an hour ago. How do you contradict what your friend said?


Answers

1. Wife: You didn't remember to feed the cat!
Husband: No!

In this dialogue, the husband is agreeing with the wife and admitting that he did indeed not remember to feed the cat.

2. Wife: You didn't remember to feed the cat!
Husband: Yes!

The response Yes, by itself, is impossible here. If the husband wishes to dispute the wife's claim, he would have to say: Yes I did!

3. Imagine your friend says: John hasn't phoned yet and this is wrong because in fact John phoned an hour ago. How do you contradict what your friend said?

Answer c. is correct. Answer a. is impossible for the same reason as given in question 2 above; and answer b. would be an agreement with, not a contradiction of what your friend said. To contradict your friend, you would have to say: Yes, he has! Or Yes, he did!

Of course, the reason English has problems with situations like this is because there is no word to contradict a negative question or statement. Other languages have such a word; doch in German or si in French, for example. (John hat noch nicht angerufen. - Doch!)


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