Negative questions in English

- And how to respond correctly -

Imagine this:

You are on the phone with a client and you two are negotiating a big deal. Suddenly, the client asks you an important question, but he asks it in an unorthodox way.

 

“So...” your client says, “you don’t want me to transfer the funds to you tomorrow?”

“Hä?” You think. “What did he just ask?”

 

Surely, it would have been easier if your client had asked you this:

“Do you want me to transfer the funds to you tomorrow?”

 

That would have been a perfect yes-no question. But your client asked you the question in a different way. In fact, he asked you what’s known as a negative question. And Germans have great difficulty answering negative questions properly in English.

 

Assuming that you do in fact want the funds to be transferred tomorrow, how exactly are you to answer your client?

 

Like this: “Yes, I want you to transfer the funds to me tomorrow.”

That’s how.

 

Forget what you thought you knew about answering negative questions, and definitely forget how negative questions are answered in German. If someone asks you a negative question in English -- for example, “You don’t want me to pay the bill?” -- and you want to indicate that what they are saying is in fact wrong, you must answer like this: “Yes, I want you to pay the bill.”

 

Now, in all the examples I have written thus far, I have put the word “yes” in italics. I have done this to show that the word should be emphasized in such situations:

Yes, I want you to pay the bill.”

 

Now, what happens if a person poses a negative question and you want to reply in the negative?

To go back to that example about the transferring of the funds, what do you say if in fact you actually don’t want the person to transfer the funds tomorrow?

 

Well, this is how such an exchange would go:

“You don’t want me to transfer the funds to you tomorrow?”

“No, I don’t.” (No funds will be transferred.)

 

“You don’t want me to pay the bill tomorrow?”

“No, I don’t.” (The bill won’t be paid tomorrow.)

 

So there you go -- negative questions and how to answer them. For sure, answering negative questions can be tricky, but if you learn how to do it, your conversations will go a lot more smoothly, I promise.

 

 

 

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