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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.

or

  • 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 '15 at 0:12
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    "Mind if I sit here?" "Yeah, okay." - Language is intuitive. Rules can only take you so far. – Ricky Oct 21 '15 at 1:58
  • This question seems relevant: english.stackexchange.com/questions/239647/… – herisson Oct 21 '15 at 3:49
  • Yes, we have no bananas. – GEdgar Oct 21 '15 at 14:42
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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.

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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 '16 at 17:02

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