If someone asks "Can I not have a drink?", and someone else responds "No", is that considered as:

  • No = No, you can't not have a drink. = You can have a drink.


  • No = No, you can't have a drink. = You can't have a drink
  • In the abstract, it is ambiguous. In context, with tone of voice and body language, it will usually be clear which is meant.
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 21, 2015 at 0:12
  • 1
    "Mind if I sit here?" "Yeah, okay." - Language is intuitive. Rules can only take you so far.
    – Ricky
    Oct 21, 2015 at 1:58
  • This question seems relevant: english.stackexchange.com/questions/239647/…
    – herisson
    Oct 21, 2015 at 3:49
  • Yes, we have no bananas.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 21, 2015 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


In English, as opposed to some other languages, the answer "yes" or "no" to a yes or no question is not affected by whether the question is in the affirmative or negative. Another example: Do you have a car? Yes (I have a car), vs Don't you have a car? Yes (I have a car). The answer is the same despite how the question is framed.


The wording of the initial question "Can I not have a drink?" is slightly awkward unless used in the context "Everybody else is having a drink, but I would rather not have one; may I please be exempt from having a drink?"

In that case, I would interpret "no" to mean "no, you are obligated to have a drink."

  • You mean the OP's question cannot be interpreted as "Can't I have a drink?"? In that case a negative answer would mean "No, you can't have any.".
    – Færd
    Jan 17, 2016 at 17:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.