Answering in the affirmative in Chinese

November 11, 2009, 09:18 PM posted in General Discussion

I'm ashamed to admit it, but this is something that still eludes me in Chinese. I'm aware that there is no "yes" (right?) in Chinese, but I'm still very confused about how to answer questions in the affirmative. I've seen a lot of conflicting information and examples with regards to 对 and 是的. Also, I've heard that it is appropriate to simply answer with a verb. For example, if someone asks "Do you have a car?", you can say "have" in reply. On the other hand, I've also heard that this is not appropriate. Any help would be appreciated.

P.S.: Is there a Qing Wen on this? If not, maybe there should be :)

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November 11, 2009, 10:40 PM


Good question mate.I remember before I started studying Chinese when I was in Taiwan my trusty phrasebook led me to believe the word for yes was 是 and the word for no was 不是。This seemed pretty straightfoward.I remember when I first tried to use 是 to mean yes I was met with a bewildered look.Ok,how could I get such a simple and small word wrong? Ok,maybe my tone was wrong,but knowing it was fourth tone and giving it another crack still met with the same puzzled look.Ok,there was more to answering in the affirmative than met the eye.In retrospect I was probably being asked if I wanted a room with a view,and I probably should have answered with the verb from the question as you've alluded to above.I think the examples that you've given in your question are the usual ones that pop to mind when looking for the best way to answer in the affirmative but admit it's sometimes still a bit tricky.I think using the verb from the 有 和 要 and using 对 are easiest but the 是的 can be trickier [heck,google pinyin input didn't even want to come up with 是的 as an option for some reason].

mdbg also has the following for yes:

唯。。。obviously this is the phone answering one

唉。。interjection or grunt of agreement

俞。。。yes [used by Emperor or ruler] why was I not informed of this one earlier?...I plan on making much more use of this in future.

唱喏。。。to chant out answer to a teacher .."please sir yes sir"...classic.

I've heard that it is appropriate to simply answer with a verb. For example, if someone asks "Do you have a car?", you can say "have" in reply. On the other hand, I've also heard that this is not appropriate.

...really? What was said about it being inappropriate? Also what were the other conflicting examples and information?

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November 13, 2009, 06:25 AM


I think that ng is the most common sound here in 昆明 (kunming)too - maybe people are more nasally-sounding in the West than on the Eastern seaboard?  Sounds seem to emanate from high up in the mouth (such as ng), or at the back of the throat (eg. 个 guarhhh). That's my personal pinyin by the way. 

I liked your culture preference BTW - it defused what was becoming a way too serious topic. The culture (yoghurt variety) is great out in this part of China.  We even get milk that tastes like milk, and I currently have three different types of cheese in the frig.  None of them are made from goats.  Aaaah, this is the life!      

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November 12, 2009, 02:07 AM

Basically, the best (or safest) way to answer a question is to use a verb (or adjective/auxiliary verb) used in the question.

中国人吗? 是/不是 (yes/no)
她明天吗? 来/不来
漂亮吗? 漂亮/不漂亮
英语吗? 会/不会

“是” can be used when you want to emphasize your your will/intention/confirmation, just like "yes, sir" in English, and this usage is a little formal. I don't recommend you use this "是" often, as it's not easy for us learners to use appropriately.

你明白了吗? 是,我明白了。
你打算去美国吗? 是,我打算去美国。

“对” (You are right) can also be used when you want to emphasize that your interlocutor's expectation/judgement is right.

她是中国人吗? 对,她是中国人
她明天不来吗? 对,她明天不来

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November 12, 2009, 03:33 AM

Thanks guys. That certainly helps.

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November 12, 2009, 04:30 AM

Actually, answering a question with just "yes" in English sounds a bit stiff in many situations, so it's no wonder it's not a simple thing in Chinese, either.

"Hey, you wanna come watch a movie with me?"


Also, if someone could elucidate the usage of 是啊 and 嗯, I'd be much obliged. My take is that 是啊 is sort of like 对, but softer, less strict. Maybe translated as "Yeah"? 嗯 (pronounced like "m" or maybe "n", fourth tone) is like the English "Uh-huh". Just a general confirmatory grunt. Very informal. Jenny uses it all the time in Intermediate podcasts and above.

There's a discussion on 嗯 in the Intermediate lesson "Grab some veggies from the store". I'm too lazy to link.

I'm a bit afraid of 是的. What the hell does it mean?

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November 12, 2009, 04:49 AM

Just noticed your questions, Bababardwan. Unfortunately, I don't remember the sources or examples since I've come across so many. But your guidebook anecdote felt really similar.


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November 12, 2009, 10:54 AM

I've been practising my grunt, ng.  This is by far the most common way of answering in the affirmative in China.  

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November 12, 2009, 12:53 PM

嗯 ,bodawei,when I looked up mdbg and came up with 唉。。。I was thinking I was more familiar with the grunt 嗯 [en] but it didn't come up and I forgot to go back and add it.

Hey,wondering why it didn't come up ,I just went and looked under yeah [and en is there] and another one has come up that I haven't struck before 噫 yi1 ..meaning yeah[interjection of approval]/to belch.




。。其实,从小听说在中国文化这样的【在西方认为不行。。认为反社会】认为好行。。compliments to the chef..appreciation.Poddies,你们听说这个吗?现在还这样的?

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November 12, 2009, 01:32 PM

great post,

i've been using 是的 if asked for example: 你要的是这个吗? 

but 是的 also connotes a tone of confirming an order or request from a superior, like a boss, as in 是的,队长。

buggerd if i know what the local smoke shop owner thinks when i retort with是的, or other frequented shops that require me to confirm that the item they are pointing to or have presented is in fact the one/brand i want.

i think I'll start a conscious effort starting tomorrow to either reply with a 是啊、嗯 or 对了 or even a 就是。


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November 12, 2009, 02:03 AM

I've heard that it is appropriate to simply answer with a verb. For example, if someone asks "Do you have a car?", you can say "have" in reply. On the other hand, I've also heard that this is not appropriate.

FWIW, I do this all the time, and I have yet to tell me that it's wrong.  I could see where I might have been asked a question like "Is this car yours?" and I answered, "Méiyǒu?".  But I chalk that up to my inexperience.


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November 12, 2009, 02:43 PM


I can't help you with the mandarinpopup - I am saving such luxuries for when I get older.  :-)  

Your work on definitions of yes made me smile - great work particularly on the character for 'to belch'.  We had a young guy live with us for half a year and he left us several strong impressions and a failed relationship.  He loved his food and almost always left the table with an impressive ,, what is it?  噫!! yī  Yeah, something like that .  


I'm thinking that there are actually several variations of the grunt in Standard Chinese, as well as regional variations.  I'm not sure that they are all documented in Chinese script.  I say at various times:






What's your experience?   

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November 12, 2009, 03:20 PM

When sb. ask you sth. you can answer just use the verb.

今天你吃了吗? 吃了

电影好看吗? 好看


“对”,“是” “嗯”in most time means "agree"..

她真漂亮! 嗯/对/是的!

When sb. ask you to do sth,you can use:


帮我拿一下书好吗? 好/行

“是” is used in army just like "Yes,sir!"

去跑50圈! “是”


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November 12, 2009, 03:30 PM


Thanks for your advice - good work!  

On another matter, when sb. does sth. for you, and they are paid to do that (eg. bring your meal to the table at a restaurant), Chinese people I have observed either 

- ignore the person;

- complain if the meal is wrong, not hot or doesn't have the whole chicken in the chicken soup (I am making a weak joke); or  

- say 好 

I don't hear people saying thank you.  But are there any other responses you can suggest to acknowledge the person who has served you, apart from 好?  


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November 12, 2009, 04:24 PM

Well, I do believe things are becoming clearer. Thanks all!


I have indeed noticed that problem. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to solve it.


I'd be interested to know this as well. However, this is one example where I shamelessly part company with the natives. I'm not shy about tossing out 谢谢. Maybe it makes me look like a doofus, but I figure that's just part of the language learning experience.

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November 12, 2009, 04:28 PM

If you listen to lessons hosted by David 徐洲 you'll notice he says 
对,是的。 a lot in response to his co-host (usually asking for affirmation on something). That would be like us saying "Right, exactly." or "Yes, that's right."

Come to think of it, Jenny does too.

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November 12, 2009, 04:52 PM


In China, if sb is paid to do sth for others, we say nothing usually especially in a restaurant...most Chinese believe it is a deal, no need to thanks.

But it's better to response thanks when sb served you,it's gentle...

If the meal is wrong , you can complain directly,no complain and keep silience mean you accept it.."好" means good,or means "Thanks"

"先生,您的鸡汤"  "好!(谢谢)"

Some Chinese maybe keep silience if the meal is wrong(the meal belongs others but is on your table by servers' mistake),it means he can eat it without pay for it because it's not on the list...It's a bad behavior in my opinion..but it's real...But I don't suggest you to do like that,sometimes it can take you troubles especially you are a foreinger...

And Chinese usually don't use a whole chicken to make soup... we just use the chicken's bone, it's better taste..the whole chicken soup usually supply to the sick or pregnant for it's nutritous...

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November 13, 2009, 03:25 AM


dont really have that experience, i use my english version of grunting and also sometimes flick in an english pofanity, usually an adverb/adjective of the copulating variety.

listening to grunts though, i can say that ng is more common here. at first i thought it quite rude. for eg: 阿姨,你好。


at first i thought she may be a mute, poor old dear. but then heard her in full form berating her younger underlings using very 地道 phrases of speech.

i thought, wtf is that! you rude pronoun. then i came to slowly understand that its quite common, and have been led to believe not rude. i'm not convinced though, particularly in regard to context, and still think explanations that try to negate its inherent bad flavor, to my ear anyway,is a piss poor excuse for being rude. i mean, nobody likes a rude person, right? 

ahh! the culture thingy. back to my strawberry yoghurt where i feel comfortable  ;)




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November 12, 2009, 02:15 PM


As an aside [sorry] with this mandarinpopup [which has been great] have you noticed on some characters when you scroll over it is extremely cursor position sensitive? For example,in miantiao's last post [just before mine] when I scroll over 就是 [I was thinking of it's meaning in the "exactly" sense but wanted to see if the popup actually listed a yeah,or yes as an didn't] the popup works virtually anywhere over the 是 but it's very difficult to get anything but a brief flash of popup over the 就。For some reason this is happening at other times but I'm not sure if it's character dependent or not [I think not].Whoa,actually it's working fine over jiushi,but for some reason no amount of hovering can get it to behave.Any thoughts?