Questions put in the negative

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 28 02:38:41 UTC 2008

Strange. It seems perfectly clear to me that, in a case like this,
"yes" *has* to mean that they *do* still carry the 8-ounce packages.
However, if this conversation were to be carried on in Russian, then
the reply, "da," would mean, "Yes, (you are correct; we don't carry
the 8-ounce packages, anymore.)," whereas the reply, "niet," would
mean, "No, (you are incorrect; we do carry the 8-ounce packages,


On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 11:44 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>  Subject:      Questions put in the negative
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  For a moment, I thought I was in Japan ...
>  At the supermarket yesterday, I was looking for 8-ounce packages of
>  smoked salmon, and found only the 4-ounce packages.  I asked the man
>  at the seafood counter, which was around the corner, "You don't carry
>  the 8-ounce packages any more, do you?"  When he replied "yes", I was
>  disappointed and started to wheel my cart away.  But I heard his
>  voice behind me, saying "Come with me."  He had emerged from behind
>  the counter to show me that the 8-ounce packages were available.
>  Clearly I had very quickly, without any cogitation, assumed he meant
>  to agree with my hypothetical:  "You don't carry them any more?";
>  "Yes, we don't carry them any more."  He clearly meant "Yes, we do
>  have them still" -- perhaps an agreement with the second part of my
>  question, "do you?".
>  My bad: two questions in one -- and one negative, one positive.  If I
>  had asked only "Don't you carry the 8-ounce packages any more?" and
>  he had responded "Yes", I would at least have been uncertain!  "Yes,
>  I agree with you, we don't", or "Yes, we do carry them"? -- and asked
>  for clarification.  (If he had responded "No", I would have been sure
>  they didn't carry them.)
>  Joel
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