Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Possible Duplicate:
How to answer a negative question without ambiguity?

2). Didn't we park on the C level?
(A) Yes, I sure thought we did.
(B) No, we'll park on the D level.
(C) Yes, we didn't park on level C.

Which is the best answer to a negative-polarity question, please?

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by tchrist, Marthaª, KitFox Dec 19 '12 at 15:16

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

1 Answer 1

Native English speakers tend to avoid answers like (C), especially if -- as usual -- the explanation clause is left off and the answer is reduced to only Yes.

The rule is that, for the most part (i.e, I can't think of an exception, so I'm hedging), Negative Yes/No questions (not, btw, "negative-polarity") get answered Yes or No just as if they were affirmative questions. Since logic doesn't deal with questions, the negation has no logical force.

It's just there as a conventional marker to express the speaker's belief that the answer should be Yes. Negative questions are often used in rhetorical questions not meant to be answered by anyone but the speaker -- "Now, wouldn't this look better over there? ... Yes, it definitely does." Language never lets a useless convention go to waste.

So, (C) is not right, (A) is fine, and (B) doesn't make any sense, since it says we'll park instead of we parked; with that correction, though, it's fine too. And just Yes for (A) and No for (B) are fine and normal, too -- though it's always safer to clarify an answer if there's any possibility of doubt.

share|improve this answer
    
Negative-polarity was me. Feel free to improve the question. –  Andrew Leach Dec 19 '12 at 15:04
    
Well, then, the correction was due for you. Feel free to learn the distinction :-) NPIs are a negative phenomenon, but only one of many. Negation is a BIG phenomenon. From the first link: "Negative utterances are a core feature of every system of human communication and of no system of animal communication. Negation and its correlates – truth-values, false messages, contradiction, and irony – can thus be seen as defining characteristics of the human species." –  John Lawler Dec 19 '12 at 15:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.