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There has been talk of how to answer a negative question without ambiguity, most often with a qualifying phrase needed for clarification. (For example, "yes, I do"/"no, I don't.)

I've noticed that other languages have a single word to address a negative question on the contrary. In German, ja means yes and nein means no. Alternatively, doch is used to respond in the positive to a negative question, in essence meaning "No, I intend to do the opposite of what your question presumes."

Take for example the question, "You don't want to go to the movie then?" German speakers could simply reply, "nein" if they don't want to go or they would say "doch" if they did want to go; an unambiguously positive response to a negatively phrased question. No need for, "no, I actually would like to go" or "yes, I'll come actually". In French, the respective equivalents of ja, nein, and doch are oui, non, and si. I imagine many other languages contain this set as well.

I am wondering whether there was at one time an equivalent word in the English language that has since (unfortunately) disappeared. Any ideas?

  • I just try not to ask negative questions. In your example, I'd ask: "Do you want to go to the movies then?" The "then", tone of voice and stress on "Do" overall gives the same effect. – James Webster Apr 2 '14 at 16:17
  • Some "positive" questions do sound a little unusual to me though. "You like eggs, don't you?" wouldn't sound right as "You like eggs, do you?" (Though I could just ask "Do you like eggs?") – James Webster Apr 2 '14 at 16:19
  • Just don't reply with one word. You are presumably trying to communicate with the questioner, so even if you decide on some rule, that person won't know the rule. – Oldcat Apr 2 '14 at 22:17
  • @Oldcat, that's exactly why I find a word like "doch" so beautiful. The rule is universal to all native speakers. The word provides instant clarity which I think strengthens communication. – teepee Apr 2 '14 at 22:38
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According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes_and_no#The_Early_English_four-form_system, 'yes' and 'no' used to be for answering negatively phrased questions. 'Yea' and 'nay' were used for the positive.

  • I like this; thanks for the insight. I wonder then if German or French have (or at one time had) a fourth word to couple with "doch". I'll look into it. – teepee Apr 2 '14 at 16:31
  • It's new to me too, interesting stuff. I'm learning Swedish, so I'll be using jo, ja and nej. See a bit further down the article for the three-form system used in other languages. – mjsqu Apr 2 '14 at 16:32
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The modern response to a negative question could simply be incorrect. While I like the yea/nay business and I personally would use it in place of the modern vernacular I think incorrect fits nicely.

"You don't want to go to the movie then?" "Incorrect."

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I know this is two words but a typical answer would be oh yes.

This gives emphasis. Also, the tone of voice would be more emphatic.

  • This has an almost pantomime flavour, when extended to oh yes I do!. – mjsqu Apr 2 '14 at 22:57

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