YES or NO – Simple questions?

“Yes” and “No” are the two most basic words in all languages. They are universal in the way that you can easily find an equivalent translation of these two words in almost all languages. While it can be said that the direct translation in Chinese would be "是" and "不" / "不是", it is in fact not that straightforward.

Let’s look at some examples:

English:Is this yours? Yes / No
Chinese:這是你的嗎?是 / 不是

English:Have you eaten yet? Yes / No
Chinese:你吃過飯了嗎?吃了 / 還沒吃

English:Do you have any brothers or sisters? Yes / No
Chinese:你有兄弟姐妹嗎?有/ 沒有

As you can see, not only can 'No' not be simply translated into '不', but 'Yes' is not always translated into '是' either.

So how do you say “Yes” or “No” in Chinese? Let’s look at several scenarios.

Scenario #1: answering a Yes/No question in Chinese using the pattern of:

To answer such questions:

  • [yes] verb used in the question.
  • [no] '不'+verb used in the question.

For example:

  • 你喜歡吃西瓜嗎? (Do you like watermelons?) 喜歡 / 不喜歡
  • 你知道ISO是甚麼意思嗎? (Do you know what ISO stands for?) 知道 / 不知道
  • 你去不去那個派對? (Are you going to that party?) 去 / 不去

Scenario #2: When the question involves action

When the question involves action, as in "Have you / Has he [done something…]”, the answer would usually be:

  • [yes] verb used in the question
  • [no] 沒+verb used in the question

For example:

  • 你們做作業了嗎? (Have you all done your homework?) 做了 / 沒做
  • 他去過意大利嗎? (Has he been to Italy?) 去過 / 沒去過
  • 你聽過這個故事嗎? (Have you heard of this story?) 聽過 / 沒聽過

Scenario #3: when simply reflecting if a statement is correct or not

When simply reflecting if a statement is correct or not, we can use:

  • [yes] 對 / 是
  • [no] 不 / 不對 / 不是
An interesting confusion

You might have encountered confusions when a native Chinese answers your questions in English. Sometimes, you might not know if they agree with you or not.

This is because while English speakers’ YES- or NO- answer defines the subsequent statement affirmative or negative, Chinese speakers’ YES- or NO- answer refers to whether the question was a correct statement or not.

For example in English you might ask:

English 中文
Q. Are you not going to the party tonight? 問:你今晚不去那個派對嗎?
A. Yes, I am going. 答:對, 我不去。(literally: Yes, I’m not going.)
A. No, I’m not going. 答:不, 我會去。(literally: No, I am going.)

Note that the Yes & No are  inverted .

Here is another example:

English 中文
Q. It wasn’t you who drew the picture? 問:那幅畫不是你畫的啊?
A. Yes, it was me. 答:對, 不是我畫的。(literally: Yes, I didn’t draw it.)
A. No, it wasn’t me. 答:不,那是我畫的。(literally: No, it was indeed me.)

Furthermore, 不 or 沒 are not the only words that means “no”. Other commonly used words include:

  • 非 - such as 是非題 which means “Yes or no questions”
  • 否 - such as 是否 (whether or not) / 否定 (to negate) / 否則 (if not)

As we can see, the simplicity of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the English language is not conserved in the Chinese language. But do not feel intimidated by this - practice makes perfect!

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