Types of Yes/No questions
Type 1. Basic short answer
Basic short answers are made by listening for a particular verb in the question and repeating that verb in a short answer. There are two types of the basic short answer:
- those that repeat auxiliary verbs; and,
- those that use modal verbs. The modal verbs are repeated because modal verbs don’t have auxiliary verbs used with them.
Basic short answers that use auxiliary verbs
The auxiliary verbs in English are: do, be and have and variations of these verbs such as does, did, am, are, was, were, has, had, etc.
If an auxiliary verb is used in the question, you repeat the auxiliary verb, not the main verb. If you want to say ‘yes’, the basic short answer, for example, is: “Yes, I do“. Note that sometimes the form of the auxiliary verb is changed but the verb is still repeated in some form. Here is an example:
- “Are you going to watch TV tonight?” –> “Yes, I am.”
Here we see that ‘are’ and ‘am’ are different forms of the auxiliary verb ‘be’.
- Do you like basketball? –> Yes, I do.
Here ‘do’ is the auxiliary verb and ‘like’ is the main verb. We do not normally repeat the main verb. So, make sure you do not say, “Yes, I like”. This is grammatically wrong.
“Yes, I like it” although not grammatically wrong, is a weak answer, at Band 4 level. You should not repeat the question words when you are not particularly emphasizing your meaning.
“Yes, I do like it” is a better answer than “Yes, I like it” and is used in normal English. But in the Speaking test you should avoid giving this kind of answer, because you might give the impression that you think the main verb is normally repeated. In English, we do not need to (nor do we usually) repeat the main verb if an auxiliary verb is used in the question.
Below are some more examples of basic short answers.
Note that for all of these, the first word and the third word of the answer are quite strongly stressed. Pronouns (‘I’ and ‘she’ in these examples) are not spoken with strong stress. The stressed words are shown in heavy black print. The only time when you stress the pronoun is when you are speaking about a contrast between two pronouns. For example: “Do you and your friends come from Beijing?” –> “Yes, I do but they don’t.”
- Do you live in Beijing? –> Yes, I do.
- Have you been to Shanghai? –> No, I haven’t.
- Did you go to bed early last night? –> Yes, I did.
- Was your mother busy yesterday? –> Yes, she was.
Using these basic short answers is very good, clear communication because, after you say the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, you repeat the idea for emphasis.
Notice also that contracted forms of the verbs are normally used when we include the word “not”. However, the full form can be used to show extra clarity or extra feeling (often slight anger).
- “Do you smoke?” –> “No, I don’t.” (Usual answer)
- But: “Do you smoke?” –> “No, I do not!” (A little angry.)
Here’s another example:
- Can you lend me another thousand euros? –> No, I can’t. (Usual answer)
- Can you lend me another thousand euros? –> No, I cannot. (Strong, rather angry answer)
Only use contractions when you include the word ‘not’ in your answer. For example, we say, “Yes, I am” but we don’t say, “Yes, I’m.”
Another point to notice is that we don’t normally repeat a subject noun. Instead, we use a pronoun. For example, “Was your mother busy yesterday?” –> “Yes, she was.” We don’t say, “Yes, my mother was.”
Basic short answers that use modal verbs
Some questions use modal verbs instead of auxiliary verbs. For questions that use modal verbs, we repeat the modal verb in the basic short answer. These modal verbs are: can, could, must, should, would, will, and may.
- Can you swim? –> Yes, I can.
- May I sit here? –> Yes, you may.
- Must you go now? –> Yes, I must.
- Would you say Beijing is a good place to live? –> Yes, I would.
- Would you like to get 6.5 in the IELTS test? –> Yes, I would.
- Will you be home early tonight? –> No, I won’t. I’ll be working late.
Just as with questions that use auxiliary verbs, it is possible to repeat the main verb in your answer. For example: “Yes, I can swim.” However, as I suggested for answers that use an auxiliary verb, don’t habitually repeat the main verb in the test. On the other hand, if you are adding an extra point to your basic short answer, it is suitable to add the main verb for emphasis or clarity. For example: “Can you swim?” –> “Yes, I can swim, but not very well.”
In the Speaking test, I suggest you use these basic short answers some of the time when you want to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. However, don’t use them every time (or almost every time) you answer a ‘Yes/No’ question because then you will sound too mechanical, like a robot. Use them enough so that the examiner knows that you do, in fact, know how to say them.
Type 2. Variations of the basic short answers
The second way to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is to use the same basic short answers as above but to add extra words in order to add meaning and to make your answers more varied and interesting. Most often, these extra words are adverbs especially: really, certainly, definitely, probably, possibly, usually, often, frequently, sometimes, never. For example:
- Do you love me? –> Yes, I really do!
- Would you like to be a leader?–> Yes, I certainly would.
- Have you ever been to Hong Kong? –> No, I never have.
- Did they fix your computer? –> Yes, they eventually did. = Yes, eventually they did.
- Do you check your email every day? –> Yes, I usually do. = Yes, I usually do. (Here, “usually” might be stressed, in contrast with the idea that ‘sometimes I don’t’.)
Other variations of basic short answers use adverbs at the beginning. For example:
- Did you get the job? –> Unfortunately, no, I didn’t. = No, unfortunately, I didn’t.
Type 3. Other ways to reply to Yes/No questions
The third way to say the first part of your reply to Yes/No questions is to use one of several single words or short phrases. Some of these are especially useful when you want to express a meaning that is not a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but somewhere in between these two.
Here are some of the most common of these words and short phrases:
- “Absolutely!” (“Absolutely not!”)
You can think of, “Absolutely!” as meaning a very big, “Yes!” It also includes the idea of, “Very much 100% yes”.
- “Totally!” (Same meaning as “Absolutely!”. But English speakers do not usually say, “Totally not!”). This expression is used by teenagers in America. If you want to act young, it is suitable for you to use this expression. If you want to act mature, don’t use it.
- “Do you really think so?” or “Do you agree?” – Answer: “Absolutely!” / “Totally!”
- “Certainly!” (“Certainly not!”)
- “Definitely!” (“Definitely not!”)
- “Of course!” (“Of course not!”)
- “Not really.”
- “Not exactly.”
- “Not at all!”
- “Not in the least!”
- “Very much so!”
- “I suppose so.” (“I suppose not.”)
- “I guess so.” (“I guess not.”)
- “I imagine so.”
- “It depends.”
- “I’m not really sure but I imagine/guess/suppose so.”
If you are not completely sure of the meaning or usage of any of these Type 3 answers, look them up in a good dictionary that has examples.