As commonly known, amphibians live both in water and on land. Then how should we answer to a YES-NO question that only accepts a boolean answer such as "Does it live in water?" when we are referring to an amphibian?

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    This seems more like a logic problem than an English question. Can you explain more specifically what your English-relevant confusion is? – Catija Apr 7 '18 at 3:24
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    If the question is badly formed it cannot be answered. If we are allowing only Yes/No answers then we must ask questions that allow those answers. "How old are you?" would be another example of a bad question for a boolean quiz. – djna Apr 7 '18 at 9:03
  • The question does not have the word exclusively in it, so yes would be valid while no would be invalid. You can answer yes to Do you drink water? even if you drink both water and wine. The question does not say only water. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 7 '18 at 11:53
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    You would get points deducted on your biology exam but an A+ on your logic exam if you answer "yes". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 7 '18 at 12:07
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    It seems you are a programmer and this is a logical problem. So, I will make it like this so you understand how it should be answered as a YES-NO only question. Amphibians live in [water, land]. So, If you ask if it lives in the water then YES. It lives in the water. Of course, you can clarify that the creature lives both in the water and on land but if the question really insists to get an answer only yes or no then it is going to be yes. – holydragon Apr 7 '18 at 17:14

In English we have an expression "Yes and no" to indicate the answer is too complicated for a simple binary true or false -- that is, we have to qualify the answer in some way.


A: Did you go to the club with Gina last night?
B: Yes and no. Yes, I went to the club last night, and Gina also went to the club, but we didn't go there together.

In the same way, "Do amphibians live in water?" deserves a qualified answer:

Yes and no. Amphibians do live mostly in the water, but they can also live on land for extended periods of time.

Naturally, if you answer "Yes and no" the listener always expects some kind of explanation.

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The technical answer to the question is yes.

Outside of a legal or formal proceeding - a common answer that affirms the question, yet leaves other possibilities open is "Sometimes."

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  • I'm not sure about that. What does "do" mean? If interpreted as "can", then Yes is a good answer, if interpreted as "is your entire life spent in water" then No, I'm perfectly able to live on land and in fact my home is that tree over there, so that's where I live ... – djna Apr 7 '18 at 9:06
  • live in is the debatable phrase, not do. If it means "have as its exclusive habitat" then a "yes" answer is not possible. Do birds walk? We can understand the question as it is usually meant, or as a strict proposition. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 7 '18 at 12:04

Just because a question is a "yes/no question", it doesn't mean that the person answering the question has to use only "yes" or "no". They can give a nuanced answer.

The amphibian example is rather odd, as amphibians can't talk. But a Japanese person may go to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. If you ask this person

Are you a Buddhist?

Well, when I visit the temple I pray there, but I also worship the Shinto kami, so I guess you could say I'm both Buddhist and Shinto.

Your amphibian could answer "I can live on land and in the water."

There is a kind of trick to ask "Have you stopped beating your wife". Answering "yes" or "no" is unacceptable. But answering "I never beat my wife" is possible.

More practically, some people don't identify as either male or female, so if they are asked if they are man or a woman, the would have to give a nuanced answer.

Designers of of webpages with forms need to think carefully about such cases. If some of your users are amphibian, a checkbox to answer "do you live in water?" would not be good design!

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