My new job requires me to deal with regulatory document and checklists containing "Is there no ......?" questions with Yes/No answer sections, and I wonder how to read what the Yes/No really mean without further explanation. Is there any general rule?

Below is a sample sentence I made up myself to explain my question.

Is there no food I can eat to prevent cancer?

If someone's answer to this question is simply by either "Yes" or "No" alone, what do you think they would mean? General understanding, I believe, is that they are referring to the direct answer to the question itself, which would most probably be interpreted as 1) or 2) below.

  1. Yes, there is. There's food you can eat to prevent cancer.
  2. No, there isn't. There's no such food you can eat to prevent cancer.

I have a second thought, however, that they could be just a short answer referring to the correctness of the question or statement made, and if this is the case, the following interpretation could also be possible.

  1. Yes, you're (or that's) right. There's no food you can eat to prevent cancer.
  2. No, you're (or that's) wrong. There's food you can eat to prevent cancer.

If my understanding would be correct, then I thought answering by just yes or no alone could lead to misunderstanding. Could you give me any advice on this?

2 Answers 2


If someone asked me, "Were no errors displayed on screen?", I would usually say "No" if I meant "No, no errors were displayed" - and "Yes" if I meant "Yes, actually, errors were displayed". It is sometimes necessary to elaborate on the latter (or even the former) for clarity, although intonation and emphasis can also help to make things clear.

However, if a checklist contained an item such as "No errors were displayed on screen", I would expect "Yes" to mean "Yes - no errors were displayed", and "No" to mean "No - some errors were displayed".

So if the item on the checklist was phrased as a question, such as "Were no errors displayed?", I would still probably expect "Yes" to mean "Yes - no errors were displayed".

But as these are regulatory documents, if there is doubt in your mind as to the correct interpretation, it may be worth checking with a more experienced colleague what their understanding is.


If someone is asking this during a 'conversation', it can be answered according to your understanding. You can repeat the sentence too, for better clarification. Just carry forward their negation or affirmation.

Is there no way to make this right? No. There is no way.

It simply emphasizes what the speaker is saying.

Even when using a single word answer, I would prefer the flow unless I want to tell them they are wrong.

Is there no way to make this right? No.

If just say Yes, It will confuse the speaker. So Yes. There is no way. makes more sense.

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