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Here I am editing this book I am trying to get ready for publication. I am running into a number of places where I've got nodding and shaking of the head in response to questions. The original author writes:

  • "I nodded my head yes."
  • "...she shook her head no..."

I am also seeing occasional "shake...yes" and "nod...no".

I'm reasonably certain that one shakes one's head for "No" and nods for "Yes". But how do you write it?

  • I nodded my head "Yes." - I shook my head "No."
  • I nodded my head yes. - I shook my head no.
  • I nodded my head "yes." - I shook my head "yes."

Or should the "Yes" or "No" even be included in the sentence, since the gesture substitutes for the affirmative or negative? If "Yes" or "No" does have a place there, how would it be best formatted?

EDITED TO ADD: I've edited this to make it clear that it is not merely a formatting issue with regard to "Yes" or "No".

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@FumbleFingers, you're in the UK so must be up and about right now (it's midnight here where I am), so could you give me a quick opinion on this? Ta. – Cyberherbalist Oct 31 '13 at 6:58
"I nodded in agreement" and "I nodded, yes". "I shook my head in disagreement" and "I shook my head" which already implies no, doesn't it? – Mari-Lou A Oct 31 '13 at 7:56
possible duplicate of How are "yes" and "no" formatted in sentences? – MrHen Oct 31 '13 at 16:03
Personally I'd go for shortening it to "I nodded" and "I shook my head" as often as possible. – Hellion Oct 31 '13 at 16:16
NOT a possible dupe with formatting "yes" or "no". That is only part of the question, and only if "yes" or "no" should even be included. – Cyberherbalist Oct 31 '13 at 16:33
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would say:

I nodded my head yes.

is the correct one. Because you're just nodding your head and that's it. Meanwhile, if you write it like this:

I nodded my head, "Yes."

That means that you're not only nodding your head, but also literally saying the word "yes".

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I am also seeing occasional "shake...yes" and "nod...no".... I'm reasonably certain that one shakes one's head for "No" and nods for "Yes"

This is not a correct assumption generally, as became quite clear to me personally when I spoke to certain Indians who indicate "yes" or "go on" or "[emphasis]" by 'shaking' their head left to right to left in the plane of the body.

See these articles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_bobble http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nod_(gesture)

Could it be that your text is trying to explicitly mark such cultural differences?

If not, and a typical Western context can be assumed, I'm pretty indifferent between "I nodded my head yes." and "I shook my head no." I would compare it to the difference between "I shrugged." and "I shrugged my shoulders" (although I suppose one can shrug off a burden, but that's a different thought).

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The text was originally written in English by a native German-speaker who is a long-time resident and citizen of the USA. German culture as to head nod/shake is identical to Anglo so far as I know. – Cyberherbalist Jan 10 '14 at 23:51

In 'An historical syntax of the English language', F T Visser writes:

... the fashion which set in in later Modern English – especially in novels – of treating verbs expressing human and animal sounds (such as bellow, coo and groan) as well as such verbs as smirk, smile and persist as if they were [near-] synonyms of say [, ie using them as quote verbs] ...

'She nodded "Yes" ' certainly fits in with this trend, and 'She nodded her head "Yes" ' shouldn't be too worrying an extension.

However, with the vastly increased number of 'allowable' quote verbs has come a blurring of the distinction between quote and report structures:

She said "Merry Christmas!" to him.

She wished him "Merry Christmas!"

She wished him a merry Christmas.

She wished him merry Christmas / a long life / good health.

He smiled ‘hello,’ and we talked as he waited to give his respects. [internet]

When I called out, he smiled hello ... [internet]

'She nodded [her head] yes' may even be acceptable as a report structure (audible words) (cf 'She smiled yes') as well as in the 'She nodded her head in agreement' sense.

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Thanks for the nice answer! As it turns out, the book in question has now been published, so this is now theoretical. See Yesterday's Sandhills - prospectavenuebooks.com – Cyberherbalist Apr 24 '14 at 21:58
Sorry I missed the post first time round. Posts resurface, and they're often valuable and/or interesting. // If you're editing what becomes a best-seller, you can go some way towards dictating acceptable usage. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 24 '14 at 22:21

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