Questions put in the negative

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Mar 28 03:10:12 UTC 2008

Wilson, if I had asked you just "You don't carry the 8-ounce packages
any more?" (rising inflection, to make it a question) and I answered
"yes" (both speaking English as best we can), what would you take my
"yes" to mean?

I -- perhaps being strange -- took it, when supplemented by the "do
you?", to mean he agreed with me.  What surprised me about myself, in
retrospect, is that I didn't pause to think it over.


At 3/27/2008 10:38 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>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
> >
> >  ------------------------------------------------------------
> >  The American Dialect Society -
> >
>All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
>come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>  -Sam'l Clemens
>The American Dialect Society -

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