“It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”

“I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”

“He hasn’t much faith.”

“No,” the old man said. “But we have. Haven’t we?”

Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea (p. 2). Green Light. Kindle Edition.

Does "No," mean "I agree with you"?

  • 1
    "No" does not mean "I agree with you." But both "No" and "I agree with you" mean the same thing in response to, "He hasn't much faith."
    – jejorda2
    Feb 13 '19 at 21:21

Yes, but you have to be careful when looking at it.

The whole sentence could be: "No, he hasn't, but we have. Haven't we?"

That "No" relates to "faith" which the person they are talking about lacks. Hence it is an agreement on a fact - which is that the person has no faith.

The old man is also taken aback a little and tries to be more argumentative, so he agrees by repeating what the other person said and adds a "but."

  • 1
    An additional note: In some languages, agreement happens by way of saying "yes" regardless of whether the utterance is positive or negative. In English, agreement happens by way of mirroring the positivity or negativity of the statement.
    – psosuna
    Feb 13 '19 at 21:42

This is a tricky one, because, quite frankly if the old man had said "yes" here, it would mean exactly the same thing.

Why? Well because "he hasn't much faith" is not a question. If you say "no" in response to it, there is an ellipsis: what you are saying is "No, he doesn't have much faith." However, if you say yes, there is a different ellipsis, "Yes, I agree with your assessment of his faith." So this is a curious case where "no" and "yes" mean essentially the same thing, which is rather confusing.

The context provides you with the contextual meaning, but obviously you cannot generalize this. Normally "no" and "yes" mean the opposite. Were the speaker to have said "Does he have faith?" then the "no" and "yes" would be quite opposite responses.


There is no hard-and-fast rule for interpreting a response consisting purely of the one-word sentence "Yes" or "No" in colloquial English speech. Subtleties in context or verbal emphasis can completely change the meaning.


In spoken English, certainly in BrE, you will constantly hear people saying "Yes, but[pause] no". It means "Yes". Why that is so is a bit of a mystery but once you notice it, it is very hard to avoid noticing it every time you hear it.

It seems to have the sense of agreement but let's move on, but the more one tries to analyse it the more puzzling it becomes.

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