1

When I asked someone,

"Don't you think he is nice?"

and the person answered

"I think so" (or "I guess so")

did the person mean "I think he is nice" or "I don't think he is nice"?

Thank you!!

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  • The person who answered meant "I guess he's nice" or "I think he's nice". "I guess so" means that they're not entirely sure about it, though.
    – RJH
    Dec 7, 2015 at 7:03

2 Answers 2

2

It's a common conversational form, and perfectly correct in an informal context, but it likely takes some getting used to. You could view the original question as being a reordering of "You do think he's nice, don't you?" (In which case "yes" is a perfectly valid response (if he is nice).)

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-2

The negative question is awkward, and in my opinion, just plain incorrect to begin with. If such a question was posed to me, I would respond:

"No, I think he is nice". or "Yes, I don't think he's nice at all".

If I were to answer yes to that question, the meaning would be "yes, I do", not "yes, I don't" — Conversely, an answer of "no" would mean "no, I don't", and not, "no, I do".

So, inferring backwards, the meaning of the question is actually:

"Do you think he is nice?"

It may appear in common usage, but saying "don't you" when you really mean "do you" throws the binary logic of the question into disharmony — a simple yes or no answer won't be perfectly clear, at least in the logical sense.

My suggested response above acknowledges the awkward negative pretense (if perhaps, as a subtle bristle of protest), while providing an answer that says exactly what I mean, so there's no confusion.

You'll hear other examples of people throwing an unnecessary "not" into their speech. For example:

"I don't have nothing"

It may be somewhat more egregious, but it's no less illogical.

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  • 1
    Are you saying that the exchange is unclear to you, or do you just have a problem with the logic? To me (and, I would venture, the vast majority of native English speakers), it's perfectly clear that the answer is affirmative with respect to "he is nice". Don't confuse the poor questioner, who's just trying to learn how people talk in English. Further, "don't you" often has different implications from "do you". Or do you really not agree? And how would you answer that, yes or no?
    – RJH
    Dec 7, 2015 at 6:59
  • My answer is based on the fact that "don't" is a contraction of "do not". So, instead of asking the clear question "Do you think he is nice?", they're throwing the negative "not" into the question so it comes out: "Do not you think he is nice?" which is grammatically appalling and no longer a clear "yes or no" question. The OP's question was how to respond to such an inquiry and what I suggested makes the response perfectly clear. — If the questioner had asked: 'You think he's nice, don't you?" or "You don't think he's nice, do you?", then the response can be a simple "yes or no" of agreement.
    – ElmerCat
    Dec 7, 2015 at 15:54
  • Actually your suggested response is very confusing, given that no one talks like that. The unabbreviated form do not as a question sounds archaic, not grammatically appalling. But the abbreviated form, don't, is so commonplace as to hardly warrant a second thought. You just used it yourself: "You think he's nice, don't you [do not you]?" Don't you see it there in your comment?
    – RJH
    Dec 7, 2015 at 16:44
  • @RJH I added more information to my answer, about my view of the logical nature of the text in question.
    – ElmerCat
    Dec 7, 2015 at 18:24
  • That's a bit better, but your premise is still misguided, and your answer is still confusing to a language learner. (Admittedly, this question is probably better suited to ELL, not ELU.) Language is often not about straight logic. Further, as to don't you, the question is not at all illogical. From a certain perspective, the answer is questionable. But really, the question here is don't you think (so), and the answer is I think (so), or I guess (so). I'd say you're focusing on the wrong idea here.
    – RJH
    Dec 7, 2015 at 18:47

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