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I faced a problem to answer a negative question, for example, when someone asks you:

Don't you have any money?

It's a yes/no question but how should one answer the question without ambiguity?

When you answer "yes", does it mean "yes, I don't have any money"? or the other way "Yes, I do have money"? the questioner may think you are agreeing to the negative, that yes, you do not have any money.

I know it's better to answer with "on the contrary" but is it possible to answer yes or no?

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  • 12
    "Yes, we have no bananas - we have no bananas todaaaaay..."
    – MT_Head
    Jun 4, 2011 at 22:21
  • 7
    Have your stopped beating your wife yet?
    – mplungjan
    Jun 5, 2011 at 8:50
  • 2
    @mplungjan That famous example actually demonstrates a quite different problem - it's a question that hides presuppositions, the Loaded question -fallacy. Unlike this one, it can be easily answered unambiguously. Jun 5, 2011 at 12:32
  • 5
    I know. Then answer is MU
    – mplungjan
    Jun 5, 2011 at 15:06
  • 4
    I know you are trying to agree with the asker with a "yes" response. But the truth is, when answering a polar question, a native Engligh speaker would always reply to the polarity used in the question instead of the truth-value of the situation. That means, a "yes" is always "positive" and a "no" is always "negative". So consider "Don't you have exam?" = "Do you have exam?".
    – user19341
    Jun 12, 2012 at 4:31

4 Answers 4

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  1. Use short answers:

    Don’t you have any money? — No, I don’t.
    Don’t you have any money? — Yes, I do.

  2. Let context guide the listener:

    Don’t you have any money? — No, I gave it all to Lucy.
    Don’t you have any money? — Yes, but not enough for this item.

  3. Use quantifiers, or intensifiers:

    Don’t you have any money? — None or None whatsoever.
    Don’t you have any money? — I have enough.

  4. In Early Modern English, there were specific words for that.

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  • 4
    In German, there's a word "doch" for cases like this, which makes the answer clear. Is there any equivalent term in English?
    – Gigili
    Jun 4, 2011 at 14:09
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    @Gigili No, but there was once. See the wiki link in my answer.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 4, 2011 at 16:44
  • In Russian you may answer: "yes no, maybe" That means: "no". That does not make things clearer, it is polite way to say "no", but that's interesting option to answer.
    – ses
    Jan 3, 2014 at 16:21
  • In French like in German, you still have a specific word "si". To answer a positive question, you can use "oui" or "non", while to answer a negative question you can use "si" or "non". Still, some people make mistakes.
    – user276648
    Dec 18, 2016 at 0:24
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    Can we say only "Yes" instead of "Yes, I do"? (Similarly only "No" instead of "No, I don't"?) Feb 15, 2019 at 12:13
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The most unambiguous way to answer would be:

I do have money.

English used to have four affirmative and negative forms (yes, yea, no, nay) to answer negatively formed questions like this but it was itself confusing, even for literary scholars of the time.

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You're talking about Negative Questions, Sb Sangpi.

The rule here is: there is no special rule in answering Negative Questions. How you answer Negative Questions is exactly how you answer positive ones.

So,

Do you have a class? = YES, I do. Or, NO, I don't.

Don't you have a class? = YES, I do. Or, NO, I don't.

I understand that most non-native speakers get confused by this. Because you're reverting to how you would answer it in the local language.

Hope you got it!

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  • Oh WoW! The question now is WAY different from how it was originally posted. :-D
    – Cool Elf
    Jun 12, 2012 at 13:36
  • (Hope my answer still holds)
    – Cool Elf
    Jun 12, 2012 at 13:36
  • This answer was originally posted on another question which has been merged with this one (see the edit history on this question). All answers on the merged question arrive here, the merge destination. And yes, it's still fine.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 25, 2016 at 8:38
3

As said by yourself, simply answering "yes" or "no" causes ambiguity. I would suggest using:

"Some", if you have money

or

"None, if you don't have any.

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    "Some" sounds like you want the person to know that you don't have much money.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:41
  • "Some" lets the person know you do have money, but still keeps the amount ambiguous.
    – Thursagen
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:46
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    I mean for example, if someone says "Hey, let's go on that ride!" and you say "Hmmm." and they say "Don't you have money?" and you say "Some." they are really none the wiser.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:54
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    I think F'x's short answers are the best answer here for a learner.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:55
  • I agree. Mine's small fry compared to his!
    – Thursagen
    Jun 4, 2011 at 12:57

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