If the question is formulated with negation to the verb, and it is answered with one word: да or нет, what is the rule of how to understand it:

  1. Imagine that the question is a logical expression (no matter does it have negation or not in it); answer да means that you think that the whole expression is true, answer нет means you think it is false.
  2. Take the verb of question without negation; answer да, if in your full answer (which would repeat the verb) you would not need to put negation to the verb; answer нет, if you would put negation to the verb in your full answer.
  3. There is no definite rule, in each particular case the meaning is clarified with intonation, or facial expression, or with additional questions/answers.

As far as I know, variant 1) used in Chinese and Japanese, variant 2) is used in English.

Here are the examples:

Parent asks his/her child: "Так ты не будешь есть?" --"Нет!" (said strongly).

Asking acquaintance: "Ты его не знаешь?" --"Да."

  • an good answer explaining difference between да/нет and yes/no: russian.stackexchange.com/a/1736/231 (second paragraph) – Kreiri Jan 22 '13 at 20:27
  • @Kreiri: I do not agree with the second paragraph of YellowSky's answer. He seems to be saying that Russian is following the variant 1. of my post. In fact, the things are more complicated :-) – farfareast Jan 23 '13 at 0:05
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In Russian you must resolve ambiguities explicitly. Below both variants, separated by "|" are acceptable:

"Так ты не будешь есть?" -- "Нет, не буду" | "Да, я не буду есть"

"Ты его не знаешь?" -- "Нет, не знаю" | "Да я его не знаю"

Just да, or нет here sounds vague and makes your answer feel evasive.

By request of comment, I will also add example for discarding negative question.

"Так ты не будешь есть?" -- "Нет, я буду есть" | "Нет, буду" | "Буду"

"Ты его не знаешь?" -- "Нет, я его знаю" | "Нет, знаю" | "Знаю"

I don't know how to decline in both cases, using "да".

  • In your examples you use да and нет but to the same result - agreeing with the negative statement of the question. Looks like a negative question is like a trap - both да and нет are most likely understood as agreeing with negative statement. Can you also give examples of disagreeing with the negative statement? – farfareast Jan 22 '13 at 4:07
  • Edited to answer your comment – Konstantin Vladimirov Jan 22 '13 at 5:47

In fact, the more I think about it, the more strange "да" seems as an answer to a negative question. Most likely I would not understand it if it is written (just as I do not understand it in the question), and if it is spoken I'd have to rely on intonation and gestures (choice 3).

However, one-word "нет" answer always negates the verb (choice 2).

A well-understood positive answer to a negative question can be constructed by repeating the verb: "Ты его не знаешь?" -- "Знаю.", "Так ты не будешь есть?" --"Буду!"

Russian is like Irish or Finnish in this respect; the former has no specific word for 'yes'/'no', the latter has some specific words for 'yes' and several varieties for 'no' govered by grammatical person & number with almost obligatory repetition of the verb from the question asked.

E. g. the question "Ты его не знаешь?" might be answered with both 'yes' or 'no' depending on intonation and pauses made. To avoid ambiguities one should use the same verb as that of the question.

Therefore Russian is more like Type 3 language.

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