Yes/No questions and answers


Did you know that there is an easy trick for answering yes/no questions in English?

“What’s the problem?” I hear you asking. “I can simply answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a question I
am asked.” I’m afraid it’s not as easy as that because we generally avoid answering a question with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, both of which often sound rude or abrupt in English.

Compare: WILLIAM: Is Nina at the Children’s Center? WENDY: Yes. (or: No.)

The answers Yes and No here are quite abrupt. So we would normally soften them like this:

WILLIAM: Is Nina at the Children’s Center? WENDY: Yes, she is. (or: No, she isn’t.)

You will notice that we add something to the answers Yes or No to make them more acceptable. In English grammar we call this little added bit a ‘tag’. This ‘tag’ is like a ‘tail’ added to the answers Yes and No. Our problem, as learners, is knowing which tag to add!

Here’s a simple way of training yourself to use the right tag. You listen to the first word in the Yes/No question and use the same word in the tag, like this:

WILLIAM: HAS Wendy gone to a meeting? (The first word is ‘has’.)
WENDY: Yes, she HAS. (We use the same word in the tag: affirmative in this case.) WILLIAM: HAS Sherise gone to a meeting? WENDY: No, she HASN’T. (We use the same word in the tag: negative in this case.)

So what are the first words in these questions? Can Dean use computers very well?
Can George use computers very well? Does William work at the Reception Desk? Does Sharon work at the Reception Desk? Will Dean work at the Sheraton for a year? Will Dean work at the Sheraton for the rest of his life?

It follows that the tags we would use in the answers to these questions are: Yes, he can. No, he can’t. Yes, he does. No, she doesn’t. Yes, he will. No, he won’t.

Of course, there are a few very obvious exceptions to this rule: ARE you working in the restaurant this evening, Wendy
– Yes, I AM./No, I’M not. WERE you at the Children’s Center this morning, Nina?
– Yes, I WAS./No, I WASN’T.

Also if you are offered something with the word ‘would’, it isn’t always polite to answer “Yes, I would” or “No, I wouldn’t”: WOULD you like some fries, Kevin?
– YES PLEASE. (rather than “Yes, I would.”) WOULD you like some fries, Elena?
– NO THANK YOU. (rather than “No, I wouldn’t.”)

Direct English trains you to give correct answers to questions like this from Book 1, Unit 2
onwards and throughout the course.

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