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I know similar questions about how to answer negative questions were asked before. But still I am confused.

If somebody asked you "You do not want to play with me?", I thought it's correct to answer "Yes, we do want to play with you", or "No, we do not want to play with you." But then I read this sentence in my daughter's picture book "Elephant and Piggy" (the author is American), they answered "No. We do want to play with you." So I asked one of my American friends, who told me it's correct. My friend said if the question was asked as "Don't you want to play with me?", you have to answer in another way, like "Yes, we do want to play with you" and "No, we do not want to play with you".

"You do not want to play with me?" "No! We *do* want to play with you. But..."

From Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems

  • Neither is incorrect. 'Yes ...' corrects the negative to a positive, while 'No ...' just refutes the negative. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 24 '18 at 23:31
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    This is an area where English is somewhat ambiguous. French has "non" and "si" for the two types of negatives. – Barmar Jan 25 '18 at 1:27
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  • English does use No in implied double negatives: You don't want to go with me? No, [I don't want not to go with you]. I do want to go with you. – Lambie Apr 8 '18 at 16:39
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Conversational English often makes use of a negative that negativizes an entire implied negative utterance, and is not just a Yes or No answer in response to the verb. This is a kind of double negative at utterance level, and is perfectly grammatical and used for effect.

  • “I don’t dislike |not receiving criticism of my book|.” which really means “I’m glad no one criticized it".
  • "He does not dispute |not agreeing with you|", which means: He does not disagree that he does not agree with you.

Question: "You do not want to play with me?"

Answer: No! [It is not that I do not want to play with you.=implied negative utterance] The answer continues on the next line: We do want to play with you.

If the Answer in the kid's book had been: "Yes", it would mean: Yes, that's right. I do not want to play with you.

The question being asked is not a simple yes-no binary one:

Do you want to play with me? Possible answers: Yes, I do. No, I don't. [that is: [Y] or [N] applies to play.]

The question being asked is uttered through rising intonation of an utterance in the negative and implies an entire implied sentence in the response.

  • You do not want to play with me?

    Possible answers: No, [it is not that I do not want to play with you. I do want to play with you].

    Yes, [that is right. I do not want to play with you].

The word no refers to an implied utterance. There is no other possible interpretation here and in conversation, these implied sentences utterances are very common.

Question: "You do not want to go to the movies me?"

The yes or no to this question refutes or accepts the entire implication.

And I am sure that someone here can write this out in better logical or philosophical notation with brackets:

"Do you want to play?" A simple binary question

Y = [want to play]

N= [not want to play]

VERSUS

"You don't want to play?" A complex binary question with implied refutation of proposition.

N=No [It is not true |that I do not want to play|]. Double negative of a statement

Y=Yes [It is true |that I do not want to play|]

[Y] or [N] here applies to "It is true that" or "It is not true that" followed in both cases by "I do not want to play".

And the amazing part is that very young children get it until they are browbeaten by adults. There is logic at play here, not just grammar. :)

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'Yes' and 'no' function differently depending on the grammar of the question.

If the question is framed as a statement, and you only know that it is a question because of the '?' mark or the rising pitch, then 'Yes' and 'no' indicate positive or negative agreement with that statement.

If the question is framed as a query, by fronting an auxiliary verb, then 'Yes' and 'no' indicate the positive or negative polarity of the response (which may or may not have the same polarity as the question).

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“Do you want to play with me?” could start a conversation, because it’s a wholly open question which assumes nothing.

Grammar is one thing but semantically and logically, the picture-book pages can’t stand by themselves. Worm can’t start the conversation with a negative question like “You do not want to play with me?” That would necessarily refer back to something said earlier which caused Worm to believe Elephant or Pig didn’t want to play.

In between the two would be “Don’t you want to play with me?” Less clearly, that would refer back to something which led Worm to suspect that perhaps Elephant or Pig might not want to play.

Broadly, the answers to “Do you want to play with me?” are “No, we don’t” or “Yes, we do.”

To “Don’t you want to play with me?” responses might be “No, we don’t” or - as in the book - “No… we do” or “Yes, we do” and please remember the emphasis is very different in each case.

To “You don’t want to play with me?” Are the same, “No, we don’t” or “Yes… we don’t” or “No… we do” or “Yes, we do” and again, the emphasis matters more than the words.

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