Echo answer

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In linguistics, an echo answer or echo response is a way of answering a polar question without using words for yes and no. The verb used in the question is simply echoed in the answer, negated if the answer has a negative truth-value.[1] For example:

  • "Did you go to the cinema?" (or "Didn't you go to the cinema?")
  • "I did not." or "I didn't go."


The Finnish language is one language that employs echo answers in response to yes-no questions. It does not answer them with either adverbs or interjections. So the answer to "Tuletteko kaupungista?" ("Are you coming from town?") is the verb form itself, "Tulemme" ("We are coming."). Negatively phrased questions are answered similarly. Negative answers use the negative verb en in coordination with the infinitive. The negative answer to "Tunnetteko herra Lehdon?" ("Do you know Mr Lehto?") is "En tunne" ("I don't know.") or simply "En" ("I don't.").[2][3]

Celtic languages[edit]

The Celtic languages also primarily employ echo answers. Irish and Scottish Gaelic lack the words "yes" and "no" altogether. In Welsh, the words for "yes" and "no" ("ie" and "nage") are restricted to specialized circumstances. Like Finnish, the main way in these languages to state yes or no, to answer yes-no questions, is to echo the verb of the question. In Irish, the question "An dtiocfaidh tú?" ("Will you come?") will be answered with "Tiocfad" ("I will come") or "Ní thiocfad" ("I will not come"). (In Hiberno-English, it is the auxiliary that is echoed: the English question "Will you come?" is often answered in Ireland with "I will" instead of "Yes" or "I will not" instead of "no".)

Similarly, in Welsh, the answers to "Ydy Fred yn dod?" ("Is Fred coming?") are "Ydy" ("He is") or "Nag ydy" ("He is not"). In general, the negative answer is the positive answer combined with "nag". As in Finnish, it avoids the issue of what an unadorned "yes" means in response to a negative question. A "yes" response to the question "You don't beat your wife?" is ambiguous in English, but the Welsh response "nag ydw" has no ambiguity.[3][4][5][6]


Although Latin has words for "yes" and "no", it also employs echo answers:[7][8][9][10]

  • Nōnne Doofus molestus discipulus est?
    "Doofus is an annoying student, isn't he?"
  • Est.
    "He is."
  • Num Doofus litterās memoriā tenēre potest?
    "Doofus cannot remember the alphabet, can he?"
  • Nōn potest.
    "He cannot."


The Portuguese language is the only major Romance language to use echo answers often, even though it has words for "yes" and "no" proper (sim and não respectively) as well. Portuguese will most commonly answer a polar question in the affirmative by repeating the main verb.

For example, one would answer the question, "Tens fome?" ("Are you hungry?" literally, "Do you have hunger?") by simply replying, "tenho" ("I have"). One could also add sim before or after the verb for the use of emphasis or to contradict a negative question, producing "sim, tenho" or "tenho sim". To produce a negative answer to a polar question, the verb is repeated followed by não before or after it. Thus, a negative answer to our above question would be: "Não tenho," "Tenho não" or "Não tenho fome." For emphasis, one could even say, "Não tenho, não."


Chinese languages often employ echo answers. Often, yes-no questions in Mandarin are expressed in the A-not-A form, and are answered with either A or not-A.[11]:pp.558–563 For example, where Q stands for question, A for affirmative, and N for negative:

Q: 你要不要吃桔子? Nǐ yào bú yào chī júzi? ("You want or not want eat orange?")

  • A: 要。 Yào. ("Want.")
  • N: 不要。 Bú yào. ("Not want.")

Q: 他在不在慢跑? Tā zài bú zài màn pǎo? ("He is or not jog?")

  • A: 在(慢跑)。 zài (màn pǎo). ("Is (jog).")
  • N: 不在(慢跑)。 Bu zài (màn pǎo) ("Not is (jog).")

In addition, yes-no questions are often formed by adding the particle "吗" (ma for "yes or no?") to the end of a sentence, in which case the answer can be "是的" (shì de for "is (so)") or "不是" (bu shì for "not is (so)"), or "对" (duì for "right") or "不对" (bu duì for "not right"):

Q: 你不上课吗? Nǐ bu shàng kè ma? ("You not go-to class yes-or-no?")

  • A: 对。 Duì. ("Right.") or 是的。 Shì de. ("Is (so).")
  • N: 不对。 Bu duì. ("Not right.") or 不是。 Bu shì. ("Not is (so).")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wendy G. Lehnert and Brian K. Stucky (1988). "Understanding answers to questions". In Michel Meyer (ed.). Questions and Questioning. New York: de Gruyter. pp. 224, 232. ISBN 3-11-010680-9.
  2. ^ Leonard Bloomfield and Charles F. Hockett (1984). Language. University of Chicago Press. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-0-226-06067-5.
  3. ^ a b Cliff Goddard (2003). "Yes or no? The complex semantics of a simple question" (PDF). In Peter Collins and Mengistu Amberber (ed.). Proceedings of the 2002 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society. p. 7.
  4. ^ Gareth King (1996). "Yes/no answers". Basic Welsh. Routledge. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-415-12096-8.
  5. ^ Mark H Nodine (2003-06-14). "How to say "Yes" and "No"". A Welsh Course. Cardiff School of Computer Science, Cardiff University. Archived from the original on 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  6. ^ Bob Morris Jones (1999). The Welsh Answering System. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-016450-3. — Jones' analysis of how to answer questions in the Welsh language, broken down into a typology of echo and non-echo responsives, polarity and truth-value responses, and numbers of forms
  7. ^ Walter B. Gunnison (2008). Latin for the First Year. READ BOOKS. p. 300. ISBN 978-1-4437-1459-4.
  8. ^ George J. Adler (1858). A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language; with Perpetual Exercises in Speaking and Writing. Boston: Sanborn, Carter, Bazin, & Co. pp. 8.
  9. ^ J. B. Calvert (1999-06-24). "Comparison of adjectives and adverbs, and saying yes or no". Latin For Mountain Men. Elizabeth R. Tuttle.
  10. ^ Ronald B. Palma (2005). SAT Subject Test: Latin (REA). Research & Education Association. pp. 296. ISBN 978-0-7386-0090-1.
  11. ^ Li, Charles N., and Thompson, Sandra A., Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar, Univ. of California Press, 1981.