This is more about the non-verbal aspect of the language.

Essentially, would a nod and a head shake in response to questions like "Ты не спала, да?" or "Ты не ела, да?" mean the same thing? Kind of like "Да, не спала" and "Нет, не спала" as a full response would mean the same thing.

From what I've seen, a head shake is more common (as is the short verbal "нет"), but sometimes I see a nod, which seems... sort of more emotional, maybe? Do those differ in non-verbal communication or am I overthinking it?

  • 1
    Best to change your questions to "Ты ела? Ты спала?" Then the answers will be unambiguous. Dec 11, 2022 at 17:30

3 Answers 3


There is no fundamental difference between the gesture and verbal answer in this regard.

Answering negative questions with да/нет is ambiguous in Russian. Is a нет-answer negation of the (negated) statement or affirmation of negation? This is not unique to Russian; English also has this problem since it dropped yea/nay, but because yes/no originally comes exactly from answers to negative questions, the problem is arguably less prominent in English.

The final "..., да?" indicates that the asker is almost sure the statement is true ("ты не спала!") and invites to acknowledge it with an affirmative да - which normally would be the most ambiguous response. This is why you see a nod sometimes. But it doesn't fully resolve ambiguity, and many people will still answer нет (or a head shake) to affirm (as would be more common to the plain question), and still more will want to elaborate.


Usually when people want to agree with the statement they answer using short answers (“Ты не спал? - Да”; “Ты не ел? - Нет”). There can be a lot of misunderstanding because both “Да” and “Нет” can mean agreement. And if they want to disagree they answer fully (“Ты не ел? - Нет, я ел.”)

Hope that helps :)


Nobody wouid answer with a nod or shaking head just to avoid misunderstanding. I would answer "спала" or "не спала'.

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