English Usage Topics > Replies
This entry explains how to reply to yes/no-questions and wh-questions that are being used to ask for information.
Replying to yes/no-questions
When you reply to a positive yes/no-question, you say 'Yes' if the situation referred to exists and 'No' if the situation does not exist.
'Did you enjoy it?' – 'Yes, it was very good.'
'Have you decided what to do?' – 'Not yet, no.'
You can add an appropriate tag such as I have or it isn't. Sometimes the tag is said first.
'Are they very complicated?' – 'Yes, they are. They have quite a number of elements.'
'Did you have a look at the shop when you were there?' – 'I didn't, no.'
Some speakers, particularly Irish and some Americans, answer with a tag question only, without using 'yes' or 'no'.
'You do believe me?' – 'I do.'
Some people say 'Yeah' /jeə/ instead of 'Yes' when speaking informally.
'Have you got one?' – 'Yeah.'
People sometimes make the sound 'Mm' instead of saying 'Yes'.
'Is it very expensive?' – 'Mm, it's quite pricey.'
Sometimes you can answer a question with an adverb of degree.
'Did she like it?' – 'Oh, very much, she said it was marvellous.'
'Has he talked to you?' – 'A little. Not much.'
If you feel a 'No' answer is not quite accurate, or you want to be more polite, you can say not really or not exactly instead or as well.
'Right, is that any clearer now?' – 'Not really, no.'
'Have you thought at all about what you might do?' – 'No, not really.'
'Has Davis suggested that?' – 'Not exactly, but I think he'd be glad to get away.'
Often when people ask a question, they do not want just a 'Yes' or 'No' answer; they want detailed information of some kind. In reply to questions like this, people sometimes do not say 'Yes' or 'No' but just give the information, often after well.
'Do you have any plans yourself for any more research in this area?' – 'Well, I hope to look more at mixed ability teaching.'
Replying to negative yes/no-questions
Negative yes/no-questions are usually used when the speaker thinks the answer will be, or should be, 'Yes'.
You should reply to questions of this kind with 'Yes' if the situation does exist and 'No' if the situation does not exist, just as you would reply to a positive question. For example, if someone says 'Hasn't James phoned?', you reply 'No' if he hasn't phoned.
'Haven't they just had a conference or something?' – 'Yes, that's right.'
'Didn't you like it, then?' – 'Not much.'
If you are replying to a negative statement which is said as a question, you reply 'No' if the statement is true.
'So you've never been guilty of physical violence?' – 'No.'
'You didn't mind me coming in?' – 'No, don't be daft.'
If you are replying to a positive statement said as a question, you reply 'Yes' if the statement is true.
'He liked it?' – 'Yes, he did.'
'You've heard me speak of Angela?' – 'Oh, yes.'
Replying when uncertain
If you do not know the answer to a yes/no-question, you say 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure'.
'Did they print the list?' – 'I don't know.'
'Is there any chance of you getting away this summer?' – 'I'm not sure. '
If you think the situation probably exists, you say 'I think so'.
'Do you understand?' – 'I think so.'
American speakers often say 'I guess so'.
'Can we go inside?' – 'I guess so.'
If you are making a guess, you can also say 'I should think so', 'I would think so', 'I expect so', or 'I imagine so'.
'Will Sarah be going?' – 'I would think so, yes.'
'Did you say anything when I first came up to you?' – 'Well, I expect so, but how on earth can I remember now?'
If you are rather unenthusiastic or unhappy about the situation, you say 'I suppose so'.
'Are you on speaking terms with them now?' – 'I suppose so.'
If you think the situation probably does not exist, you say 'I don't think so'.
'Did you ever meet Mr Innes?' – 'No, I don't think so.'
If you are making a guess, you can also say 'I shouldn't think so', 'I wouldn't think so', or 'I don't expect so'.
'Would Nick mind, do you think?' – 'No, I shouldn't think so.'
'Is my skull fractured?' – 'I shouldn't think so.'
Replying to either/or-questions
If the question has or in it, you reply with a word or group of words that shows what the situation is. You only use a whole clause for emphasis or if you want to make your answer really clear.
'Do you want to pay by cash or card?' – 'Cash.'
'Are they undergraduate courses or postgraduate courses?' – 'Mainly postgraduate.'
'Are cultured pearls synthetic or are they real pearls?' – 'They are real pearls, but a tiny piece of mother-of-pearl has been inserted in each oyster.'
Replying to wh-questions
In replying to wh-questions, people usually use one word or a group of words instead of a full sentence.
'How old are you?' – 'Thirteen.'
'How do you feel?' – 'Strange.'
'Where are we going?' – 'Up the coast.'
'Why did you leave?' – 'Because Michael lied to me.'
Sometimes, however, a full sentence is used, for example when giving the reason for something.
'Why did you argue with your wife?' – 'She disapproved of what I'm doing.'
If you do not know the answer, you say 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure'.
'What shall we do?' – 'I don't know.'
'How old were you then?' – 'I'm not sure.'
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