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Updated Oct. 27, 2012

How to Answer 'Yes/No' Questions (Page 1)

Many questions in the Speaking test are 'Yes/No' questions, questions that could be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No". There is a big difference in the way a typical Band 4 or 5 candidate answers these questions, compared to, say, a Band 7 candidate. If you follow the guidelines in this article, you will definitely improve your score.

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In General

·   Almost every question in the Speaking test (not just Y/N questions) requires you to give 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 you should avoid this in the Speaking test because there are better ways to say "Yes" or "No", (or something in between these two).

 

·   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.

For example: “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.” Try to 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.” (See Type 3)

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·   The following is a note about a common error of Chinese students    

It is possible to answer a 'Yes/No' question by repeating the question. 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. 

However, many Chinese students answer by repeating part of (or all of) the question and they answer this way habitually, i.e., this is their main way to answer this kind of question. You should avoid this because this is not the usual way English speakers answer Yes/No questions. For example, "Do you like basketball?" –> "Yes, I like basketball." Or, "Yes, I like it." This is Band 4 level English. 

Usually we 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'. I call repeating either or both of these, 'repeating the question'.

Examples of When it is Suitable to Repeat the Question     

Although I just wrote that it is best not to repeat the question, I will now give you a few examples of those instances when English speakers do repeat the question in their answer.

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. 

Some examples

Question: Do you like basketball?

Answer: 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.)

This is actually a good answer for the Speaking test. The only problem, as I have already mentioned, is that you should be careful not to only show this style of direct answer (i.e., 'Yes, I do like it'). 

Here, the speaker wants to emphasize that he likes it even though he doesn't play it or watch it on TV very much. He wants to emphasize it because he wants to make sure the other person doesn't misunderstand, since he seems to not like it by his behaviour of neither playing it nor watching it on TV. In other words, this answer contains a contrast situation because the speaker answers "Yes" and then follows that with "but". When we speak of a contrast situation, we quite strongly emphasize the two things in contrast. For example, "I've got a big dog but she's got a small one." However, most of your answers to Yes/No questions in the speaking tests will not contain such a contrast situation. 

It is also possible for this speaker to answer by saying, Yes, I like it but, at the moment, I don't have much time to play it or watch it on TV. In this case, the speaker emphasizes the word 'like'. If you repeat the question for emphasis, you should emphasize one of the two words, the word 'do' or the main verb, 'like'. This answer is not quite as emphatic as the first one –  using the word 'do', with word stress, is the more emphatic. Both of those answers are emphatic because they both repeat the words of the question in order to be especially clear and avoid the other person misunderstanding.

More examples

Question: May I smoke in here?

Answer: 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.

Or,

Question: Do you like people who try to hurt you?

Answer: 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. 

Or,

Question: Do you like to eat sweet things?

Answer: Yes, I do like to eat sweet things! In fact, I love to eat them! I'm crazy about sweet foods!

Note that the following two answers are grammatically wrong: "Yes, I do like." or, "Yes, I like."

The Preferred Answer

Let's return to the basketball question. There is also a third answer that is quite emphatic, but less emphatic than the two answers above. This is: Yes, I do but, at the moment, I don't have much time to play it or watch it on TV. This is still rather emphatic because the word 'do' is used and spoken with word stress, but since the question is not repeated in the answer, it is less emphatic than the first two answers. This is the more common way to answer the question and it is this type of direct answer that you should use most often in the Speaking test.

Why is it good to use a slightly emphatic answer as your direct reply instead of just saying, "Yes"? Because this degree of emphasis is clearer than just the word, "Yes" and greater clarity = better communication.

To recap: Including the question in the answer is possible sometimes but it is not the usual way to answer a Yes/No question and it is best for most Chinese candidates to NOT answer a Y/N question that way in the Speaking test, or at least don't answer that way more than once or twice.

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        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.

Question   Do you like your job?

Answer a:   No.

Answer b:   No, I don't.

Answer c:   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.

Answer d:   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.

Answer e:   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 Answer a to Answer eAnswer b adequately answers the basic question (yes or no) but gives no extra detail. Answer c gives adequate extra detail but uses only 'No' to answer the basic question. For most of you reading this page, Answer d is a good enough model to aim for but Answer e, a Band 8/9 level reply, is even better!    

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       Better Ways to Say 'Yes' or 'No'  

As mentioned above, Answer c would be better if the speaker did not simply say, “N. 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."

You should 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".

     IMPORTANT NOTE: 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.

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       Type 1.  The Basic Short Answer

    ‘Basic short answers’ (as I call them) are made by listening for a particular verb in the question and repeating that verb in a short answer. There are two types of  'Basic Short Answer': A) Those that repeat auxiliary verbs; and, B) Those that use modal verbs – the modal verbs are repeated because modal verbs don't have auxiliary verbs used with them.

    A) Basic Short Answers That Use Auxiliary Verbs

     The auxiliary verbs in English are: do, be and have and the 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 ( 动词 ), not the main verb. If you want to say 'yes',  the basic short answer is:  "Yes, pronoun + 动词". (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'.

     In the basketball example above, the third answer to the question, 'Do you like basketball?' is an example of a basic short answer: i.e., 

     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, because 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, as I have already mentioned above, in the Speaking test you should avoid giving this kind of answer (except, perhaps, a maximum of once) because you might give the impression that you think the main verb is normally repeated, as in Chinese. 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 (spoken a little louder). The 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 (写式) 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). For example: “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 yuan?

               –> No, I can't. (Usual answer)

               –> 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.” 

 

B) Basic Short Answers That Use Modal Verbs (情态动词)

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.

Examples:

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

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The Difference Between these Short Answers in English and in Chinese

In English, when we say, "Yes, I do" or "No, I'm not" etc., the two halves of these short answers agree with each other. That is, "Yes" = "I do" and "No" = "I'm not". In other words, we are simply repeating something for emphasis or clarity. (Repeating for clarity is good communication.) But the two sides to these short answers are not always the same in Chinese. We can see this when we look at negative questions. 

For example, this is how we speak in English: 

Q: "You're not Japanese, are you?

A: "No, I'm not." (Sometimes, an English speaker would just answer, "No".)

But in Chinese:

Q: 你不是日本人吗?

A:  对,我不是日本人。(Sometimes a Chinese speaker just says, "".)

In English, it is rare to say something like, "Yes, I'm not Japanese" because the two halves of the answer do not agree. Certainly, you should never answer such a negative question in English by just saying "Yes" (). That would really confuse an English speaker.

But if you were a Japanese person, the following would be correct:

Q: "You're not Japanese, are you?

A: "Yes, I am."  (Sometimes, an English speaker would just answer, "Yes", using a particular tone of voice, similar to that used when saying, "Yes, I am" that tells other English speakers that, "Yes" means, "Yes, I am." But usually an English speaker would say, "Yes, I am" to avoid any misunderstanding.)

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        Review of Basic Short Answers

Using Auxiliary Verbs

Are you busy? –> Yes, I am.

                       –> No, I'm not.

Have you seen any good films lately? –>  Yes, I have.

Did you go anywhere during your holidays? –>  Yes, I did.

Had you ever been there before? –>  Yes, I had.

Did your parents go with you? –>  No, they didn't.

Did you know how to ride a bicycle when you were 8 years old? –>  Yes, I did.

Does your mother work outside the home? –>  No, she doesn't.

Has your girlfriend seen that film? –> Yes, she has.

Was she impressed? –>  No, she wasn't

Do you like spicy food? –> Yes, I do.

                                       'Yes, I like.' is WRONG

Do you have a dog? –> Yes, I do.

                                     'Yes, I have.' is WRONG

Do you also want a cat? –> Yes, I do.

                                     'Yes, I want.' is WRONG

Do you have to go? –> Yes, I do.

Is she sleeping? –> No, she isn't. = No, she's not.

Are you studying English right now? –> Yes, I am.

Are you going to check your email tonight? –> Yes, I am.

Are there many students in your class? –> Yes, there are.

Is there a photocopy machine in the office? –> Yes, there is.

Were there many people at the wedding? –> Yes, there were.

            

Using Modal Verbs

Can you swim? –> No, I can't.

Could you ride a bicycle when you were 8 years old? –>  Yes, I could.

Must you go? –> Yes, I must. ( "No, I musn't go" has 禁止去 meaning. Instead, say "No, I don't have to." or, "No, I needn't go." I prefer the first of these two.)

May I sit here? –> Yes, you may.

Would you like something to drink? –> Yes, I would.

Would you like to live in Rome? –> Yes, I would.

Would you say Beijing is a good place to live? –> Yes, I would.

Would you help me if I needed help? –> Yes, I would.

Would you have chosen a different job if someone had offered it to you?

                                                        –> Yes, I would have. (Two Words)

(This is somewhat difficult English which you probably won't have to use in the Speaking test.) Notice that when there is both a modal verb and an auxiliary verb, sometimes, but not always, both are used in the short answer.

Should cigarette advertising be banned? –> Yes, it should be.

Should everybody pay taxes? –> Yes, they should.

Will you be busy tomorrow? –> No, I won't.

Will you be working tomorrow? –> Yes, I will.

With 'should' questions, it is acceptable to say, "Yes, I think it should be" or, "Yes, I think they should" in answer to the two questions above. But I do suggest avoiding, "Yes, I think so" as an answer for such questions because, although that answer is not 'wrong', it's not as good as including the word 'should' in your answer. Use, "Yes, I think so" for questions that are of the form, "Do you think ...?"

You should test yourself on making these basic short answers by covering the answer with your finger or a piece of paper. See this page to find a little review quiz on these basic short answers: REVIEW QUIZ ON BASIC SHORT ANSWERS.

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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.

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