A: Can I bum a cigarette?

B: I'm an athlete.

I would like to know what the term for this type of answer is. To be honest, I came across it while reading an article online the other day, but it has completely fallen out of my head. The implication is that a person who asks a question, does not receive a yes or no answer for their question.

Here are some examples:

A: Can I bum a cigarette?
B: I’m an athlete (meaning—since I am an athlete, I'm watching my health, so do not smoke and consequently I do not have any cigarettes)

A: Do you want me to buy you an ice cream?
B: I'm lactose intolerant (ice cream has milk which might give B some GI distress)

A: Are you coming with us to the pool?
B: I cannot swim (I am not coming with you guys because I cannot swim)

As you can see from the examples above, all the answers are formulated in a different way. It is more like providing additional information regarding the question that is being asked.

  • 1
    The examples you wrote are a little confusing. 1) what's a sportsman? Do you mean by that an athlete? 2) Sometimes ice cream is a soothing thing for a sore throat 3) for all of them, I feel like they need a "Sorry, ..." preceding to make real sense.
    – Mitch
    Nov 17, 2018 at 0:54
  • Do you consider the answers to your 3 sample questions to be evasive, or do you consider them to be valid? At the other end: do you consider them to be vague or do you consider them to be so specific that they leave no doubt even though they didn’t explicitly give a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?
    – Lawrence
    Nov 17, 2018 at 2:11
  • 1
    @jlovegren I am 100 % positive that there is a specific grammar term for it because I saw it the other day. That is why I asked this question.
    – Beqa
    Nov 17, 2018 at 6:50
  • 1
    As Mitch says, example #2 is especially confusing. I would interpret “I have a sore throat” in that context as meaning “yes, I would like an ice cream, because I have a sore throat and ice cream is cool and soothing”. Nov 17, 2018 at 12:42
  • 1
    @Lambie I added 'A' and 'B' to help the reader understand that there are two speakers, A and B. A says something then B responds. The parentheses explains the reasoning for why B's response to A should be sufficient for A to realize that B's real response is 'No'.
    – Mitch
    Nov 17, 2018 at 17:38

2 Answers 2


This is called an implicature.

It was coined by H. P. Grice to refer to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.

I knew someone who only ever answered in implicatures. Someone would ask him who did he think was going to win the Super Bowl between the Giants and the Patriots and he'd say: "Well, I'm from New York, so ..."

  • 1
    Implicature is not a dialogue.
    – Lambie
    Nov 17, 2018 at 15:39
  • 1
    The implicature is the inference drawn from the utterance, not the utterance itself. See Mitch's answer.
    – Alan Munn
    Nov 17, 2018 at 18:28

The response itself, which seems to not answer the question literally, is called an:

indirect speech act.

In your instances, a yes/no question is asked, but the response doesn't say yes or no directly but instead says something which allows the asker to infer the answer, indirectly.

In general, an exchange like this, where context would allow one to infer the answer or the next, the inference is a kind of:


This is in contrast to an entailment (or logical inference that is possible without context). These are a technical terms coined by Grice (of Grice's maxims) in the field of pragmatics.

  • This should be the accepted answer.
    – Alan Munn
    Nov 18, 2018 at 16:33

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