Updated Dec, 19, 2013


  How to Answer 'Yes/No' Questions (Page 2)


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!” [绝对正确 (“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.

[Examples: 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.” (See note, below.)

“Not exactly.” (See note, below.)

“Not at all!”  

“Not in the least!”

“Very much so!” 

“I suppose so.”  (“I suppose not.” )  (See note, below.)

“I guess so.”   (“I guess not.” )  (See note, below.)

“I imagine so.”

“It depends.” ( = 那要看情况)

“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.

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Answers for Questions Involving Time 

(I suggest only using one of these answers a maximum of once in the test. These are natural ways to answer a question but they are a little simple.

Example Question: "Do you ever go swimming?"

Example Answers:

“Sometimes.”  = “Yes. Sometimes.”  (= “Yes, sometimes.”)

“Occasionally. ” = “Yes. Occasionally. ”  (= “Yes, occasionally. ”)

“Never.”  = “No. Never.”   (= “No, never.”)

The three one-word answers above are often spoken without the word "Yes" or "No", but "Yes" or "No" can also be used to precede those three words.

(Don't say, "Yes, never." Instead, say "No, never.")


But the words, "Frequently" and "Often" are rarely used alone as answers to Yes/No questions. Almost always, you need to precede them with "Yes".

“Yes, frequently!”  (= “Yes. Frequently!”)

“Yes, often!”  (= “Yes. Often!”)

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        The meaning and usage of, “Not really.” and “Not exactly.” 

These two expressions are particularly useful and strong. At first glance, they seem to mean about the same thing but English speakers use them differently. 

“Not really” is a 'gentle' or 'soft' or less emphatic way to say, "No". It is often used when saying, No might offend the other person. It can also have a meaning that is close to 100% No, but not fully 100%. 

For example: 

Q: Do you want to go out tonight?

A: Not really. I'm feeling a bit tired.


Q: Would you say your hometown is a good place to live?

A: Not really. It's quite a dirty little city and there's a lot of unemployment there. I'd say there are many better places to live. In fact, almost everyone I know is trying to move to somewhere else. 


        Q: Do you like sport very much?

A: Not really. I like to exercise and keep fit and I like to play badminton in the park with my boyfriend but I'm not really interested in organized sport. For example, if my father is watching football on TV, I'll usually go to my room and find something else to do.


Q: Do you want to be famous?

A: Not really. It would be nice to be famous but I can't say it's something I think about very much. I just hope to be successful and happy that would be good enough for me. (Stress the word 'nice' this is contrast stress.)

English speakers sometimes add the word, “no” after they say, “Not really.” For example, “Not really, no.” or they put “no” first, as in, “No, not really.”


“Not exactly” is used when we want to give an answer that is close to 'Yes' but not exactly 100% yes. It  really means, "I would not use exactly the same word that you used, but I more or less agree with what you said."

For example:

Q: Would you say your hometown is a good place to live?

A: Not exactly. It's not a bad place to live because it's clean and it's close to the ocean and there are quite a few new companies there so most people can find a job, but I really would prefer to live somewhere else because ... I don't know ... maybe it's just a bit boring for people my age. For example, there's very little nightlife and there's nothing much to do on the weekends. (Stress the word, 'bad'.) Here, 'not exactly' means 'I would not choose the words 'a good place to live' to describe my hometown - I'd say it was just 'an ok place to live', but nothing special.

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The usage and meaning of, “I suppose so” and “I guess so

These two expressions usually mean that you are just guessing but they can also be used to express a reluctant or unenthusiastic, "Yes". When you use these expressions for such a meaning, you should use a tone of voice that shows you are not really happy to say, "Yes" and usually you say these expressions with a small sneer on your face.

For example:

Q: Do you like your job?

A: (Spoken unenthusiastically.) I suppose so. It's ok. It's better than no job at all, I guess. 

(This person probably feels bored at work or has several other complaints but doesn't want to talk about them. He realizes that he really has no valid complaints and so, he cannot really say he dislikes his job.)


Q: Would you say your hometown is a good place for young people to live?

A: (Spoken with just a small sneer and not enthusiastically.) I suppose so. It's not too bad although I'd prefer to live in a bigger, more interesting place such as Beijing or Shanghai. 


On the other hand, if you speak with a normal tone of voice, without any hint of a sneering tone, “I suppose so” and “I guess so” mean that you don't know for sure but you imagine the answer is, "Yes". 

For example:

Q: Do other people in China also think that he's a famous person?

A: I suppose so. I've never really asked anyone how they feel about him. 

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There are also other variations of these answers, such as “I would imagine so.”

You can also include the words “Yes” or “No” with all of the answers above, except for “It depends.” The words “Yes” or “No” are placed before the word or short phrase. Below are the ways this can be done. Note that you can only use “Yes” with the ones shown and “No” with those shown using “No.” You cannot say, for example, “No, I suppose so.” For that idea, you should say, “No, I suppose not.”


“Yes! Absolutely!” (“No, absolutely not!” )

“Yes! Certainly!”  (“No, certainly not!”)

“Yes! Definitely!”  (“No, definitely not!” )

“Yes, of course!”  (“No, of course not!” )

“Yes! Naturally!”

“No, not really.” (= “Not really, no.”)

“No, not exactly.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”  (“No, I suppose not.” )

“Yes, I guess so.”   (“No, I guess not.” )

“Yes, I imagine so.”

“No, not at all!”  


Actually, many of the questions in the Speaking test, especially in Part 3, are more suited to these Type 3 answers than the Type 1 basic short answers. For example: “Would you say that people in China have enough leisure time?”  To reply, “Yes, I would. or “No, I wouldn't. are possible answers but to say an adamant, ‘black or white’ answer such as these is often not suitable for Part 3 questions. In other words, “Yes, I would.” means 100% “Yes” and “No, I wouldn't.” means 100% “No” but often you want to say something in between these two.

Another way to reply to a 'Yes/No' question is to focus on the adverb or some other key word that is used in the question. For example: “Do you always return home for the Spring festival?” “Yes, always.”  Sometimes you can correct the questioner by adding “Not” before the adverb or key word. For example: “Does everyone agree that he's a good leader?” “Not everyone. Some people think he's a bit lazy but I still think he's a good leader.” Another example: “Do you usually get your news from TV?” “Not usually (, no). In fact I rarely watch TV. I usually get my news from newspapers or the internet.”

Sometimes you can answer with a “Not + another word” even when the questioner did not actually use that word. In this case, the meaning of that word is implied in the question. For example: “Do old people like the same kind of films that young people do?” Not usually. Most old people in China like to watch old movies, especially revolutionary movies or movies about the war of resistance against the Japanese. Actually, most old people are not very interested in watching any movies; they prefer to do such things as play mahjong, watch TV, chat or go for a walk.” Other examples are: “Not everyone”;  “Not all of them.”;  “Only a few of them.” etc.


Some Extra Points Concerning 'Yes/No' Questions: Some Weak Answers  

Yes, I think so.

Some weaker candidates answer, “Yes, I think so.” for almost all ‘Yes/No’ questions. If you do that, the examiner will notice that you really don't know any other ways to answer the questions. Try to use “Yes, I think so” only as an answer for a question that has the words, “Do you think ...?” However, it is suitable to include the word, “think” in an answer to a “should” question. For example: “Should smoking be banned in government buildings?”   “Yes, I think it should be.” = “Yes, it should be.

IELTS examiners sometimes ask questions such as, “Would you say your hometown is a good place to live?”  The words, ‘Would you say ...?’ mean, ‘Do you think ...?’ But it is not very strong English to answer with, ‘Yes, I think so.’ (That answer really means, "Yes, I think I would say that." In other words, that answer is saying that you are not really sure what you would say if someone asked that question.) The best answer is, "Yes, I would."


Misusing (or Overusing) the word, “Maybe” 

“Maybe” (and “Perhaps”) are best used when talking about the future. These words are related to the meaning of, “It depends”.

Some weak candidates overuse and misuse “Maybe” or “Perhaps”.  These are sometimes suitable answers as the basic answers to a ‘Yes/No’ question but you should immediately follow that with why you said “Maybe” or “Perhaps”.  The word, “Maybe” means “Possibly yes or possibly no, it depends on . . .” and if you don't explain why you said, “Maybe”, i.e., what it depends on, then your answer gives no information at all. For the question, “Will you look for a job as soon as you migrate to Australia?”, “Maybe” is a suitable direct answer if you include in your answer an explanation such as “Maybe. I haven't decided yet. I might first enroll in a university or I might first get a job. I'll have to wait and see what the job situation is like.” Another example of a suitable use of, “Maybe” is this:  “Are you going to walk to work tomorrow?”  “Maybe. If it's fine I'll walk but if it's raining I'll take the bus.”

However, if the question is, “Do you like your job?” then, “Maybe” is not suitable as a direct answer because it's not related to depending on what a future situation is. If you mean that you are not sure what your feeling is, it is better to clearly say something like, “I'm not sure how I feel” or, “I'm in two minds about that” instead of saying, “Maybe”. If you don't strongly like or dislike your job, better direct answers are, “Not really”, “Not exactly” or “I suppose so.”

In other words, saying, “Maybe” is weak when used as an answer to a “Do you like ...?” question because that answer is expressing the idea (in poor English) that you don't even know if you like something or not. That's a bit like a man saying to his girlfriend, “I think I love you.”

To repeat: Don't use, “Maybe” as the beginning of a reply to a question that asks how you feel it's not suitable because, “Maybe” is usually close in meaning to, “It depends” and people don't usually answer the question, “Do you like ...?”  by first saying, “It depends”. 


Using “Yeah

Since the Speaking test is not highly formal, using “Yeah” once or a maximum of twice in the test is ok. But don't habitually use it because you are supposed to speak educated (although natural) English in the test and “Yeah” is very informal. It's best to use it in an answer where you are not trying to be emphatic and when you are talking about a topic that is quite simple and informal. For example: “It seems you really like animals.” “Yeah, I do.”

But I do recommend you never say, “Yep” or “Yup” in the test.


Saying “I don't know.

You should never say, “I don't know” as your complete answer in the Speaking test. However, there might be times when you really don't know and at those times it's acceptable to begin your answer with “I don't know.” and then follow that with why you don't know. In fact, it would be better if you used a more 'impressive' sentence than, “I don't know” because that's rather simple English. For example: “Do you think the internet is a good educational resource?” I'm afraid I can't give you an opinion on that because my parents rarely let me go onto the internet. You know, I'm only 17 years old.” Other ways to say this could be: “I'm not too clear about that because ... ” or, “I don't know much about that because ... ”

At other times, you are not expected to know’ but, rather, expected to make a guess. For example: Do you think more and more young people will live away from their parents in the future?”  Well, I'm not sure but I imagine that, yes, more young people will live independently, if they can afford it.” You could also use the words 'guess' or 'suppose' in place of the word 'imagine'. For this answer, 'expect' would also be another suitable word.


Saying “Of course.

Be careful how you use this expression. At times, it can sound condescending, as if the person asking the question asked a stupid question. 

Some candidates also overuse “Of course” when it is used as the polite “Yes.”  When the examiner asks: “Can you tell me your full name?” or “Can you tell me where you're from?” it is not (very) wrong to start with “Of course” but that is answering as if the question is a true 'Yes/No' question, which it isn't. I suggest you don't use “Of course” this way but if you do use it, use it only once in the test. In general, overuse of any word or expression is not a good idea in the Speaking test.


In Conclusion

It is important to make it obvious to the examiner that you do know how to say the basic short answers. However, if you only use the basic short answers (Type 1, above), you will sound like a robot. The best strategy is to use a mixture of the three types shown above.

The first thing you should do in your study is to make sure you can say the Type 1 ‘basic short answers’ correctly. After that, you should then practice adding extra words to these answers to make Type 2 answers. Go HERE to see a little quiz on the basic short answers. This quiz has most of the models that you need to know.  

Don't forget, these ‘basic short answers’ are just examples of how to say the first half or the beginning of your answer –  in most cases, you should also give extra detail in the second half of your answer.