Today’s (December 7) Washington Post carries the following quote from the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s remark on the back-and-forth debates of raising the debt ceiling in the congress as the Quote of the Day.

“What we have here is a case of Republicans here in the Senate once again not taking yes for an answer. Now the Republican leader objects to his own idea. So I guess we have a filibuster of his own bill."

I don’t think I’ve heard the phrase “Take yes,” though I say and hear “Say yes / no” pretty often.

I found “Take yes” by “googling” in the title of the book, “Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus” written by Michael A. Roberto, professor of Management at Bryant University and visiting associate professor of New York University.

From the context of Mr. Reid’s quote and the above title of a book, I guess “Take yes for an answer” means to make a resolute decision, or vote for Yes to go forward, but am not sure.

How does “Take yes” differ from the colloquial “Say yes”? Is it a popular word like “say yes / no,” or a political or management terminology?

  • 1
    Note that the "not" is an integral part of this phrase.
    – Marthaª
    Dec 7, 2012 at 0:28
  • Given answers, I started to realize that ‘Take no for an answer” means not to expect or accept “Yes-answer” from others catering to, or compromisising with one’s own demand / resolution. Dec 7, 2012 at 1:06
  • correction:‘Take no for an answer” above should be read "Take yes for an answer." Dec 7, 2012 at 1:16
  • Taking (accepting) an answer is the opposite, complementary action to saying (giving) an answer.
    – Kaz
    Dec 7, 2012 at 3:16

4 Answers 4


The stock phrase “not take no for an answer” means to persevere in one’s purpose, undeterred by the refusal of others to cooperate. “Not take yes for an answer” is a humorous or rhetorical inversion.

So when Sen. Reid says the Republicans are “once again not taking yes for an answer” he is claiming that although he has agreed to what they have asked for —given them “yes” for an answer— they are continuing to find fault and create objections. They are, he suggests, persevering in their badly-masked purpose, to impede Democratic efforts to achieve compromise, and are undeterred by Sen. Reid’s expressed willingness to cooperate.


Take yes and say yes are two completely different things.

When you say yes, you simply agree with something.

When you take yes for an answer, that means you accept someone else's saying yes. It's not you who is doing the saying. It's a completely different person.


The idiom is usually seen as

Don't take NO for an answer.

which means if you make someone an offer it is rejected you try to convince the person you made that offer to to change their mind and say yes.

What Mr. Reid is trying to imply by saying that the Republicans won't take Yes for an answer is that his party is willing to adopt the proposal offered up by the Republicans, but that the Republicans are now backtracking on their original offer and won't agree to honor it.


"Take" in this case means "accept", so these are very different phrases.

If you don't take yes for an answer, you've asked a question, and you won't accept the answer if it's yes.

If you don't say yes for an answer, you only answer yes when asked something.

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