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The following always puzzles me as a non-native speaker.

When somebody asks the question "Do you mind if...", there seem to be two possible responses.

  1. "Sure" and "No, not at all", which both mean that the person doesn't mind.
  2. "Actually, I do mind", which means that the person does mind.

Why is this so confusing? Especially, how come people reply "Sure" to this question, if that could be understood to mean that they for sure do mind?

13

"Do you mind..." is a polite way of asking "Can you...." For this reason, it's usually acceptable to respond to the semantic intent of the question by answering "Yes (I can do that)", rather than responding to the grammatical form with "No (I don't mind)".

Native speakers sometimes get confused by this, too.

2
  • 12
    I'm not confused; I know exactly why I'm answering the opposite of what they would expect. – mmyers Aug 23 '10 at 20:53
  • On one occasion, I made the experience of "No" being understood as "it is NOT ok with me". Which left "Yes" as well as "No" as a decline. The other person was Irish, thus a native speaker. We discussed briefliy, and she confirmed my conclusion. – Raoul Steffen Jan 10 at 21:47
8

"Sure" isn't answering the question as asked; it's answering an implied question, namely: "is it OK with you if...".

"No, not at all" is answering the question, taken literally.

3

I'd rather try to circumvent the problem. How about something like this:

*"Do you mind if I open the window?" "Go on."

*"Do you mind if I take a piece of cake?" "Serve yourself."

In the first case it's useful to smile if you think it sounds rude.

1

People seem to want to answer in the affirmative when granting permission (me included), so I usually ask the question that way: "Is it OK if I..."

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