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A negative question is one that is worded in such a way as to require a “no” response for an affirmative answer and a “yes” response for a negative answer. In other words, negative questions switch the “yes/no” response order of regular, or positive, questions to a less intuitive “no/yes” order. The following is an example of a negative question:

Would you mind driving me to my class at the English Island on Tuesday?

For this negative question, a “no” answer would indicate that the person being asked the question would be able and/or willing to drive the person asking the question. A “yes” answer would mean that the askee is unable/unwilling to drive the asker.

Native English speakers frequently answer negative questions with positive answers. Likewise, many are used to receiving positive responses to negative questions. Because of this, you should always follow your “no/yes” answer with a clarification or explanation of your answer:

No, I don’t mind driving you.
Yes, I do mind. I have an appointment at that same time.

In most cases, you can omit the “no/yes” entirely and simply answer with your clarification/explanation. This is generally a good idea when your answer would be “yes,” as some native speakers consider the type of response outlined above to be rude:

I don’t mind driving you.
Sorry, I have an appointment at that same time.

You can also answer the question as though it were a positive question, just as many native speakers do. If you choose to answer in this manner, a clarification is absolutely essential to avoid a potential misunderstanding:

Sure! I’d be glad to drive you.
Sorry, I can’t drive you. I have a doctor’s appointment.

Because negative questions can create the potential for misunderstandings, it is usually better to avoid using them. Here are some common negative questions and positive versions of those same questions:

Negative:         Aren’t you going to English class tomorrow?
Positive:          Are you going to English class tomorrow?

 

Negative:         Doesn’t she know that the report is due today?
Positive:          Does she know that the report is due today?

 

Negative:         Do you mind if I drink the last can of Coke?
Positive:          May I drink the last can of Coke?

 

Negative:         Didn’t you wash the dishes yesterday?
Positive:          Did you wash the dishes yesterday?

Need Help with Your English?

The English Island offers ESL classes to non-native English speakers in the Atlanta area. We can improve your grammar, teach you how to read, and reduce your accent. If you want to test your knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary, try our free English level test.
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