How to answer “Yes/No” questions
Many questions in the Speaking test are “Yes/No” questions. If you follow the guidelines in this article, you will definitely improve your score.
Almost every question in the Speaking test requires two parts to your answer.
1. First, directly answer the basic question, using a short statement.
2. Then follow that with a suitable amount of extra, relevant information.
For “Yes/No” questions, it is not grammatically wrong to simply say a one-word “Yes” or “No” as the direct answer. But avoid this because there are better ways to say “Yes” or “No”.
Avoid indirect answers
When some candidates answer a “Yes/No” question, they don’t clearly and explicitly give the first part of the ideal two-part answer. In other words, they answer the question, but they answer it indirectly.
- “Do you watch TV very much?” –> “I rarely watch TV because I’m so busy with my work.”
Even more indirect than that is to answer this way:
- “Because I’m so busy with my work, I rarely watch TV.”
Avoid this kind of answer to a Yes/No question, beginning with “Because”, although it’s ok to begin with the word “Because” in answer to a “Why . . .?” question.
Better answers are:
- “No, I don’t. I rarely watch TV because I’m so busy with my work.”
- “No, I don’t because I’m so busy with my work.”
- “Not really, no. I rarely watch TV because I’m so busy with my work.”
Repeating parts of the question
It is possible to answer a “Yes/No” question by repeating the question, or part of it. But this is only done when you particularly want to emphasize your “Yes” or your “No” meaning, or your feeling. Therefore, this kind of answer is used much less frequently than the other answers shown on this page.
- For a question like, “Do you like basketball?” we usually don’t repeat the main verb “like” in the answer.
- Nor do we usually repeat the object noun “basketball” or a pronoun representing this word, in this case, “it”.
Examples of repeating the question
Q: “Do you like basketball?”
- A: “Yes, I like basketball.”
- A: “Yes, I like it.”
- A “Yes, I like.” (Grammatically incorrect)
Examples of when it is suitable to repeat the question
English speakers sometimes repeat the words of the question when they particularly want to emphasize their feeling or meaning. They repeat the words for clarity – so the other person makes no mistake in understanding the answer. The following are examples of good English but, remember, this is not the usual way to answer a Yes/No question. In fact, most candidates should avoid this type of direct answer or only answer a maximum of one or two Yes/No questions this way in the test. Why only a maximum of one or two? Because I believe it is very important that you clearly show the examiner you know the more common ways.
Q: Do you like basketball?
- Yes, I do like it but, at the moment, I don’t have much time to play it or watch it on TV. (The word “do” is spoken with strong word stress.)
Q: May I smoke in here?
- No, you may not smoke in here! (The word “not” is spoken with strong word stress. This answer shows strong emotion such as anger or determination. The whole question is repeated so the listener makes no mistake in hearing the answer clearly.)
Q: Do you like people who try to hurt you?
- No, I do not like people who try to hurt me. (The word “not” is spoken with strong word stress. This shows strong emotion such as anger or bitterness. To make it as emphatic as possible, we clearly say “do not like” rather than “don’t like”. Using the full form of the verb, “do not” is clearer and therefore more emphatic than the contracted form, “don’t”. But saying, No, I don’t like people who try to hurt me is still very emphatic because of the stress on “don’t” and the repetition of the sentence words.
Q: Do you like to eat sweet things?
- Yes, I do like to eat sweet things! In fact, I love to eat them! I’m crazy about sweet foods!
Examples of Weak and Strong Answers to Yes/No Questions
The following shows various ways, both good and not so good, to answer a ‘Yes/No’ question.
Q: Do you like your job?
- No, I don’t.
- No. It’s too stressful, the working hours are too long – about ten hours a day – and the pay’s much too low. I really want to find a better job.
- No, I don’t. It’s too stressful, the working hours are too long – about ten hours a day – and the pay’s much too low. I really want to find a better job.
- No, I don’t, to tell you the truth. There’s virtually nothing I like about it. For example, it’s too stressful, the working hours are too long – about ten hours a day – and the pay’s much too low. So, as you can imagine, I really want to find a better job.
These answers improve as you go from the first answer to the last one. Answer 2 adequately answers the basic question (yes or no), but gives no extra detail. Answer 3 gives adequate extra detail but uses only “No” to answer the basic question. Answer 4 is a good enough model to aim for but Answer 5, a Band 8/9 level reply, is even better!
Better Ways to Say “Yes” or “No”
As mentioned above, Answer 3 would be better if the speaker did not simply say, “No”. Just saying “No” as the first sentence, the direct answer, is not grammatically wrong and English speakers do often speak that way but I suggest you always try to give a better direct answer than that rather simple one. What are the better ways to express “Yes” and “No” (or an idea that is in between these two)? I have put the ways to answer “Yes/No” questions into three groups:
Type 1. The Basic Short Answer
For example, “Yes, I do.”
Make sure you show the examiner you know how to answer Y/N questions this way but you should not use this way to answer every Y/N question because you will sound too mechanical if you do.
Type 2. Variations of the Basic Short Answers
For example, “Yes, I certainly do.”
These consist of Type 1 answers, with the inclusion of an adverb.
Type 3. Other Ways to Reply to ‘Yes/No’ Questions
For example, “Absolutely!” or, “Not really.”
You should sometimes use these, in order to add variety to your replies and especially when you want to express an answer that is somewhere in between “Yes” and “No”.
In the IELTS Speaking test, you should consider that most, if not all questions are an invitation to speak. The answers I show below are just the direct answer part of a two-part answer. Using one of the three types of answer below as your complete answer is usually not a good idea in the test, although it might be ok just once in the whole test. Most of your answers in the test (except for the 4 introductory questions) should consist of two parts – the first part directly answers the question and the second part consists of a suitable amount of extra, relevant material. In other words, for almost all “Yes/No” questions, what is shown below is just a variety of ways to say the first part of your two-part answer.