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I got into a debate with one of my colleagues - we are both not native English speakers. She asked me a question "so we are currently not sending any data to him?" I replied "No".

I understand that this answer is a bit ambiguous, probably this was the reason she misunderstood it (my intention was to say no, we are not sending anything). To make it clear, I wrote "No, as in no we aren't"

After this she lectured me that a.) for the first question I should have answered 'yes' if I want to confirm and b.) No we aren't is not proper English because it's double negation.

Can anyone please clarify/explain a.) and b.)?

marked as duplicate by sumelic, Chenmunka, Mari-Lou A, Mitch, Hellion Sep 25 '15 at 21:46

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    Quite an interesting question! I think the following question is about the same issue as your point b; see if the answers there are helpful: Are these double negatives? “No it is not. No I don't think so.” – sumelic Sep 25 '15 at 8:23
  • For your point a, see the following: How to answer a negative question without ambiguity? Short answer, you are right. However, in a situation like this another unambiguous response you could have given to your colleague is "right" or "that's right." (On the other hand, saying "wrong" would generally be considered rude.) – sumelic Sep 25 '15 at 8:27
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    My answer to the title question would be "no, it is not." – Andreas Blass Sep 25 '15 at 8:44
  • Concerning your co-worker's opinion that you should have answered "yes" to confirm what she said, that would be very confusing (almost certainly misundestood) in English, but it seems to be standard in some languages, including Japanese. I've been told that the following conversation would make perfectly good sense in Japanese (it doesn't in English): "Weren't you born in Tokyo?" "Yes, I was born in Kobe." – Andreas Blass Sep 25 '15 at 8:47
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    a) has been asked, and answered, before while b) is such complete and utter nonsense it beggars belief. And it sounds like she's being a huge jerk about it, to boot. Here's a simple rule that works 100% of the time: never listen to people who use the words "not proper English". They don't know what they are talking about, and these words just reek of it. Anyone who knows the first thing about English would never use them. – RegDwigнt Sep 25 '15 at 9:09

There are several different issues here.

  1. "So we are currently not sending any data to him?"

You label this as a question—it isn't. In English the question might be, "So are we currently not sending any data to him?" This has the verb and subject inverted. In native speech you would be more likely to hear, "So aren't we currently sending him any data?"

  1. You say that the one-word answer 'no' to such a question is ambiguous. You are right. It is an ambiguity that can trip native speakers under certain circumstances. Here are some examples:

A: Are you going to the meeting tonight?

B. No.

A. Aren't you going to the meeting tonight?

B. No.

In both of the above cases, native speakers understand that B will not attend the meeting. The difference is in A's expectation. In the first example, A has no expectation either way and has no obvious preference. In the second, A is expressing a concern or expectation that B is not planning to attend. B confirms the expectation.

What if B does plan to go to the meeting?

A: Are you going to the meeting tonight?

B. Yes.

Again A has no expectation. B gives an unambiguous affirmative answer.

A. Aren't you going to the meeting tonight?

B. Yes.

Here's where the problems start. A has an expectation and B's answer contradicts the expectation. The answer is Yes, but the intention about attending is negative. A native speaker would clarify and could equally say:

B. Yes, I am going.


B. No, I am going.

Whether Yes or No is used in the reply depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is A's tone of voice. Another is the preceding context.

Because the question contains a negative, it is important to resolve any ambiguity and so, in both cases, B adds the clarifier, "I am going" and that clause removes all doubt.

The important thing to notice is that the Yes or No are (a) addressing A's expectation and (b) expressing B's attitude to that expectation. The final phrase "I am going" is what supplies the answer to the question.


This is not a double negative. It is a single word addressing the questioners expectation followed by an independent statement of fact (the answer).

  • 1
    -1 The first sentence is a question. It ends in a question mark! It's just a question that's marked by intonation alone, rather than intonation plus a change in word order. And for me "Aren't you going to the meeting tonight?" – "No, I am going" sounds bizarre; does it really sound idiomatic to you? – sumelic Sep 25 '15 at 9:04
  • @sumelic - I don't know your background. I know that English in the US for example has become heavily influenced over many years by immigrant populations from many different cultures. The Latin cultures in particular have made the non-inverted question much more commonplace in the US than, say, in Britain. Secondly we are running into the ever present problem of representing spoken English in textual form... – chasly from UK Sep 25 '15 at 9:13
  • ... If I could speak my examples, you would have no difficulty in recognising the formulation, "No - I am going." Again there may be a difference between varieties of English. I suspect that you and I come from different sides of the Atlantic. – chasly from UK Sep 25 '15 at 9:13
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    "No, I am going" is possible as a sentence, and I know the intonation you mean. I should clarify that my issue with it is as a response to the question "Aren't you going?" In my experience, a question like that carries a positive implication, so if the speaker is actually going a "no" is inappropriate. But in response to the question ""Are you not going?" "No - I am going" sounds OK to me. Is this an actual difference between us, or would you agree with what I said in this comment? – sumelic Sep 25 '15 at 9:17
  • Actually, I guess I can now kind of imagine one situation where the example you give would be possible. If someone asked "Aren't you going?!" in an incredulous tone, they might give the impression that they think the listener ought to go, but don't think the listener will. In that case, I can see someone responding with a defensive "No – I am going." But it seems a marginal case to me, and similar to the "affirmative no" that some people use when they interrupt someone else's sentence to agree with them. – sumelic Sep 25 '15 at 9:26

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