The Yes-No Question in English Grammar

An interrogative query that seeks a positive or negative answer

The words "Yes" and "No" on a seesaw.
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https://www.thoughtco.com/inflection-grammar-term-1691168Also known as a polar interrogative, a polar question, and a bipolar question, a yes-no question is an interrogative construction (such as, "Are you ready?") that expects an answer of either "yes" or "no." Wh- questions, on the other hand, can have a number of answers, and potentially more than one correct answer. In yes-no questions, an auxiliary verb typically appears in front of the subject—a formation called subject-auxiliary inversion (SAI)

Three Varieties of Yes-No Questions

There are three types of yes-no questions: the inverted question, the inversion with an alternative (which may require more than a simple yes or no answer), and the tag question.

  • Are you going? (inversion)
  • Are you staying or going? (inversion with an alternative)
  • You're going, aren't you? (tag)

In an inverted question, the subject and the first verb of the verb phrase are inverted when that verb is either a modal or an auxiliary verb or with the verb be and sometimes have

  • She is leaving on Wednesday. (statement)
  • Is she leaving on Wednesday? (question)

The question itself may be positive or negative. A positive question appears to be neutral with regard to the expected response—yes or no. A negative question seems to hold out the distinct possibility of a negative response, however, inflection is also a factor that can influence a yes/no response.

  • Are you going? (Yes/No)
  • Aren't you going? (No)

The Use of Yes-No Questions in Polls and Surveys

Yes-no question are often used in surveys to gauge people's attitudes with regard to specific ideas or beliefs. When enough data is gathered, those conducting the survey will have a measure based on a percentage of the population of how acceptable or unacceptable a proposition is. Here are some typical examples of survey questions:

  • Are you in favor of premarital sex? ___ Yes ___ No
  • Do you support gun control? ___ Yes ___ No
  • Should people be required to spay/neuter their pets? ___ Yes ___ No
  • Do you believe global warming is a hoax?___ Yes ___ No
  • Do you plan to vote in the next election?___ Yes ___ No

Another way to pose yes-no survey questions is in the form of a statement.

  • Women and men can "just" be friends. ___ Yes ___ No
  • Guests are always welcome here. ___ Yes ___ No
  • My mom is the best cook in the world. ___ Yes ___ No
  • I've read at least 50 books from the library. ___ Yes ___ No
  • I will never eat pizza with pineapple on it. ___ Yes ___ No
"Typically, pollsters ask questions that will elicit yes or no answers. Is it necessary to point out that such answers do not give a robust meaning to the phrase 'public opinion'? Were you, for example, to answer 'No' to the question 'Do you think the drug problem can be reduced by government programs?' one would hardly know much of interest or value about your opinion. But allowing you to speak or write at length on the matter would, of course, rule out using statistics."—From "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology" by Neil Postman

Examples of Yes-No Questions

Homer: "Are you an angel?"
Moe: "Yes, Homer. All us angels wear Farrah slacks."
—"The Simpsons"
"Directing a movie is a very overrated job, we all know it. You just have to say 'yes' or 'no.' What else do you do? Nothing. 'Maestro, should this be red?' Yes. 'Green?' No. 'More extras?' Yes. 'More lipstick?' No. Yes. No. Yes. No. That's directing."—Judi Dench as Liliane La Fleur in "Nine"
Principal McGee: "Are you just going to stand there all day?"
Sonny: "No ma'am. I mean, yes ma'am. I mean, no ma'am."
Principal McGee: "Well, which is it?"
Sonny: "Um, no ma'am."
—Eve Arden and Michael Tucci in "Grease"

Sources​

  • Wardhaugh, Ronald."Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Approach." Wiley-Blackwell, 2003
  • Evans, Annabel Ness; Rooney, Bryan J. "Methods in Psychological Research," Second Edition. Sage, 2011
  • Postman, Neil. "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology." Alfred A. Knopf, 1992