12

If I am expecting an answer from a question and wish to state my prediction, do I need to use quotes around a simple "yes" or "no"?

I think the answer is no. / I think the answer is "no."

That would be a yes. / That would be a "yes."

Potential end cases:

Why would he say, "No"?

The votes are in; three yeses and four nos.

The options are yes or no; not "maybe."

10
  • 2
    Good question. I myself would say "The answer is no." But let's see what others say.
    – Robusto
    Apr 18 '11 at 14:39
  • @Robusto: That is what I want the answer to be... but mostly just for brevity. I hate wrapping one small word in quotes.
    – MrHen
    Apr 18 '11 at 14:51
  • @MrHen: That is exactly why most people agree with you and leave out the quotation marks, or so I believe. I'd leave them out in most contexts. Perhaps I'd add them if I wanted to emphasize that I was indeed quoting someone. Apr 18 '11 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Robusto: Heh. I find it worth looking at what other people/styles do. My personal preferences don't always mesh with the rest of the world's use of English. (Especially when it comes to punctuation.)
    – MrHen
    Apr 18 '11 at 16:33
  • 1
    @MrHen: Chambers, it say "yes(s)es". So either goes, though for no good reason at all I prefer the single 's' version.
    – user1579
    Apr 28 '11 at 2:01
16

Unless there's a style guide telling you otherwise, I'd suggest basing your decision on whether you mean the literal words 'yes' and 'no', or the general nature of the response. Consider:

Why would he say, "No"? (For that is the word that he said.)

vs

Why would he say no? (What he actually said was "Over my dead body", but let's not worry about that detail.)

4
  • +1 Precisely. Use quotation marks to quote; if not, don't.
    – msanford
    Apr 18 '11 at 23:32
  • Works for me. This is pretty close to what I would have guessed.
    – MrHen
    Apr 20 '11 at 19:17
  • The common trends to use quote-like structures in report structures, and drop commas around quotes, are not liked by some people. He said "Hello" to the children. He said hello to the children. His answer was "No." His answer was no. Oct 20 '12 at 10:56
  • Still, I can't see that someone could ever say: Why would he say, "No"? Jan 14 '20 at 2:22
6

In both the answer is no and say no, quotes are relatively uncommon. The Corpus of Contemporary American English gives these results:

the answer is no        484 hits
the answer is " no       27 hits (including punctuation variants)

[say] no               8891 hits
[say] " no "            521 hits (including punctuation variants)

However there are only 10 yesses and 30 yeses, so you might want to reword that one (perhaps The votes are in: 3 in favor and 4 against).

My subjective impression is that it is better style to omit the quotes. Your style, of course, is up to you.

2
  • Good note on the "yesses" and "yeses". My instinct is to use the double-s but I apparently am not consistent about it. :P
    – MrHen
    Apr 20 '11 at 19:18
  • @Jason Orendorff, did you include italics as a punctuation variant? If so, could you fill me in on how to search for italics in the Corpus of Contemporary American English? Just curious...
    – DyingIsFun
    Nov 2 '15 at 22:59
1

Personal opinion? Put the quotes. This is what they’re there for: to distinguish between the meaning of the word, and the word itself (“ceci n’est pas une pipe”).

For comparison, consider

The answer is affirmative.

Here, “affirmative” is a word that signifies that the answer is positive / “yes”. But the word “yes” itself is not synonymous with “affirmative” in this usage. I may affirm an answer by saying “yes”. But I cannot yes an answer to affirm it.

But unfortunately popular writing usually seems to oppose my conviction. That is, in most novels such short expressions are rarely put between quotes even though they are a fragment of direct speech.

2
  • I'm trying to capture a vague thought flitting around in my head: what about the article? "His answer was a yes." That's not quite the same as "His answer was 'yes'." Or is it?
    – RegDwigнt
    Apr 18 '11 at 17:15
  • @Reg I don’t think that there is a tangible difference with regards to quoting. Logically, this would mean that (at least in this instance, “a yes” is equivalent to “affirmative” … but really we are using in article “a” to refer to the word (as a stand in for an answer) “yes”). But as I’ve said I’m in the minority here. Apr 18 '11 at 17:44
1

A handbook of style will tell you that the simpler, cleaner format is usually better, and is becoming more universally accepted.

My instinct would be that you would only want to use quotes if you want to make it explicitly clear that you are quoting an exact, phonetic utterance. Notice the two elements of the criterion:

  1. You are quoting a phonetic utterance.
  2. You want to make it very clear that you are.

Otherwise, just say no to quotes.

1
  • ELU prizes answers that are supported by linked and attributed references. Answers of the form "The dictionary says ..." are unconvincing, often biased, and sometimes erroneous. Can you please endorse your claim by adding at least one supporting quote (a blockquote would be better formatting than inverted commas here). Jan 14 '20 at 17:25
0
  • "Answer was 'no'." — correct; gives clean sense.
  • "Answer was no." — incorrect; meaning unclear.
1
  • I'm not sure what your above answers are answers to. If they are answers to a question, then by your judgement, any instance of reported speech, where the reported content is a paraphrase of the original quote and may be more or less accurate, might be termed incorrect. Oct 20 '12 at 10:53
0

To quote from Grammar Girl (emphasis added),

  • "If you are directly quoting someone, put the word in quotation marks."
  • "If you are indirectly quoting someone, don't put the word in quotation marks."

Here are some examples:

  • The cat smiled and said, "Yes."
  • "No," I replied, "he is unavailable."
  • I hoped the answer would be yes, she could go.
  • In so many words, I had to tell him no.

In the last two examples, the words "yes" and "no" summarize the nature of the response, but do not necessarily reflect any spoken words.

1
  • << I hoped the answer would be yes >> gives rise to a problem. Jan 14 '20 at 17:21

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