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When a negative question is asked, what is the grammatically correct way to answer?
How to answer a negative question without ambiguity?

If someone says "You have nothing to do", what is the proper answer to say "what you just said is true":

  • You have nothing to do.
  • Yes, I do.

Or

  • You have nothing to do.
  • Yes, I don't
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marked as duplicate by coleopterist, FumbleFingers, tchrist, Robusto, MετάEd Sep 30 '12 at 2:16

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This is the problem with phrasing any question in the negative. Usually, I would just say, "You are correct." Grant you, I've never had nothing to do since I started working, but one day I hope to have that sentiment. –  Affable Geek Sep 25 '12 at 13:56
    
The possibilities are hardly exhausted by your alternatives. You might answer "You are correct", as @AffableGeek suggests, or "That's true", or "No kidding!", or "It beats working for a living", or "And that's entirely too much", or any number of things. –  StoneyB Sep 29 '12 at 23:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In English, if you respond to a negative question, like "You don't ...", with a simple "yes", it's ambiguous if you mean, "yes you are correct, I do not", or "you are incorrect, I do". People normally use more words to clearly state what they mean.

In your example, one might answer, "You are correct" or "That's right" to indicate that he does, in fact, have nothing to do. Or if he does have something to do, he'd say, "No, I do have things to do" or something of that sort.

We don't say, "Yes, I don't". Whatever one can say about the grammar of that sentence, it would be considered twisted wording.

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Affable Greek's diagnosis and solution is admirably clear. But the intuitively correct reply appears to me to be 'no, I don't'; adopting the negative mood in affirmation of the negative mood of the questioner.

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