Answering Questions

Répondre aux questions

In English, you can only answer yes / no questions with variations on the themes of yes, no, and I don’t know. French, however, has another possibility: yes in response to no.

1) Oui = Yes

– Aimez-vous voyager ?
– Oui.
  – Do you like traveling?
– Yes.
– Il est prêt ?
– Oui.
  – He’s ready?
– Yes.

2) Non = No

– Aimez-vous voyager ?
– Non.
  – Do you like traveling?
– No (I don’t).
– Il n’est pas prêt ?
– Non.
  – He isn’t ready?
– No (he’s not).

3) Si = Yes, to contradict a negative question

– N’aimez-vous pas voyager ?
– Non.
  – Don’t you like traveling?
– No (I don’t).
– N’aimez-vous pas voyager ?
Si.
  – Don’t you like traveling?
– Yes, I do.
– Il n’est pas prêt ?
– Non.
  – He isn’t ready?
– No (he isn’t).
– Il n’est pas prêt ?
Si.
  – He isn’t ready?
– Yes, he is.

  Oui and si are not interchangeable: oui can only be used to agree with an affirmative question, while si can only contradict a negative question.

Par exemple…

– Aimez-vous voyager ?
– Oui. / Si.
  – Do you like traveling?
– Yes (that’s correct, I do).
– N’aimez-vous pas voyager ?
– Si. / Oui.
  – Don’t you like traveling?
– (You’re wrong.) Yes, I do.

  I love the word si and was thrilled when I mastered its usage. It was disconcerting to discover that in Morocco and Guadeloupe, si is sometimes used like oui.

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