With the question, "Is [noun1] as [adjective] as [noun2]?", should one answer in the negative or affirmative when [noun1] is more [adjective] than [noun2]?


Animal      Top speed  
=======     =========  
gazelle     40mph  
deer        40mph  
lion        50mph 

Easy cases:

Q: Is a gazelle as fast as a lion?
A: No, it isn't.

Q: Is a gazelle as fast as a deer?
A: Yes, it is.

But should the following be answered in the affirmative or negative:

Q: Is a lion as fast as a gazelle?

Some possible answers:

A: Yes, (in fact) it is faster. [My preference]
A: No, it is faster.

My foreign wife is teaching a children's English class as I write this, and she just asked me to explain how to answer this last "as...as" question. Unfortunately, the textbook she's using avoids the above issue. And my wife is skeptical of my preferred answer (above); hence, my appeal to the experts here.

  • 1
    Either can be defended, depending on the context of the question. Or both can be badly formed, since those are just estimates of fastest recorded running speed and actual speed will vary with the animal, the conditions, etc. A better question will yield a clearer answer.
    – keshlam
    May 3, 2015 at 4:51
  • Grammatically speaking, there are two different varieties of equative constructions (that's what the as..as construction is called). One of them means exactly the same as, and the other means at least the same as, and possibly more. We know they're different because one triggers negative polarity items and the other doesn't. She's (at least) as good a goalie as anyone in the league is grammatical, but *She's (exactly) as good a goalie as anyone in the league is nonsense. Since it could be either, the 'at least' case is assumed, just like inclusive or. May 3, 2015 at 15:36

3 Answers 3


Technically, you are correct. Practically, it is confusing either way.

Clearly, you feel it is OK to answer with a qualified Yes or No. My suggestion is that you do not have to answer in the negative or the afformative; that is, leave out the Yes or No:

  • [Actually,] a lion is faster than a gazelle.
  • Good answer, but I'd add "Actually," at the beginning of the sentence. May 3, 2015 at 23:59
  • In addition, I'd put a stress on it. "Actually, a lion is faster than a gazelle." Seems more natural to do so.
    – Flater
    May 4, 2015 at 9:35
  • Both good improvements. Added them to my answer. May 5, 2015 at 6:01

I agree with you (because you made a convincing case -- I'm imagining a number line showing speed, and we simply want to know if noun1's speed is at least as great as noun2's, in other words, is speed1 >= speed2), although I'm afraid these fine points may be lost on beginning English students.

You may want to be careful and avoid offering unsolicited opinions about your wife's work, unless she is a saint. Her work is her private domain, not shared between the two of you.

It's different when it comes to family life matters -- there, unsolicited opinions, corrections, technical clarifications, etc., may feel less unwelcome.

  • 1
    Answers should offer more than just opinion. Why do you agree? Can you explain the fine points?
    – Andrew Leach
    May 3, 2015 at 7:55

For a start, the as...as sequence entails that the speaker has compared two entities and found them equal. Hence, knowing that gazelles and deer are equally fast, two speakers are able to produce the following sequences:

A: Is a gazelle as fast as a deer? B: Yes, it is.

as well as

A: Is a deer as fast as a gazelle? B: Yes, it is.

Note that in each case the emphasis is on the noun that precedes the verb which is compared and found equal to the noun that follows the verb. Hence, it seems there are two ways to express the same relation arising from the comparison between the two nouns(but with a different emphasis each time).

However, this is not the case when one wants to show inequality between the two sides, which will result in the following sequence (in its expanded version):

A: Is a lion as fast as a gazelle? B: No, it is not as fast as a gazelle. It is faster than a gazelle.

which does not provide for language economy but it could be produced if the speaker wanted to clarify their point. Therefore, it can be assumed that the speaker would normally opt for a more economical answer, i.e.

B: No, [it is not as fast as a gazelle] it is faster [than a gazelle]

Changing No for Yes in the sentence above proves the awkwardness of the intended meaning based on the real fact, namely that the lion is indeed faster than the gazelle. That is, by adding Yes, one would be likely to accept that (in its expanded version as before):

B: Yes, a lion is as fast as a gazelle, but in fact it is faster.

which in its shorter version would be:

B: Yes, [a lion is as fast as a gazelle but] in fact it is faster.

Why would anyone opt for an answer like this?

  • ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are not quite as simple as that when answering as X as questions, though. If there’s nothing specifically against it, “Is A as X as B?” doesn’t ask whether A and B are equal in their X-ness, but that on a scale starting at no X-ness at all and ending at supreme X-ness, A has at least reached the same point of X-ness that B is at. Very few people would naturally answer the question, “Is a gazelle as fast as a snail?” with a simple “No”, even though a lion’s top speed is not equal to a snail’s. With qualification, both yes and no work, answering different questions. May 3, 2015 at 15:40
  • (By which I mean that in “No—it’s faster”, ‘no’ answers the precise question of whether A and B are exactly equal; whereas in “Yes—in fact, it’s faster”, ‘yes’ answers the practically implied question of whether A’s X-ness is less than B’s.) May 3, 2015 at 15:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet My point still remains that No, it's faster represents a more practical, thus more meaningful answer in the context of comparing Lion (A) with Gazelle (B) in terms of their speed (X-ness). But let me ask you this, what kind of information was the speaker seeking when asking the question if not to check whether or not A and B are equal? Wouldn't they phrase their question somehow else if they were interested in checking "whether A's X-ness is more/less than B's" by utilizing any of the following combinations: Is a lion/gazelle faster/slower than a gazelle/lion?
    – Georgia P.
    May 3, 2015 at 17:56

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