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I spent several hours, studying on this site and on others the topic of "yes/no answers to negative questions". Eventually, I decided to make up my own sentences on how I understood this topic. Could you check them please:

(0a) Won't John go to work? — as far as I understand, we can perceive this question the one way:
i) the questioner thinks John will go to work

(1a) No, he will not. — natural
(2a) No, he will. — incorrect because illogical since saying it, the answerer wants to emphasize his disagreement with the questioner but proceeding from the question, the questioner and the answerer both think the same, they think John will go to work
(3a) No. — natural, without ambiguity; means "No, he will not."

(4a) Yes, he will. — natural
(5a) Yes, he will not. — unnatural
(6a) Yes, you're right. He will not. — incorrect because "you're right, he will not" is illogical since proceeding from the question, the questioner thinks the other way round, thinks John will go to work
(7a) Yes. — natural, without ambiguity; means "Yes, he will."

Some conclusions:
(2a) is incorrect, that's why the short answer "No." in (3a) has no ambiguity.
(6a) is incorrect, that's why the short answer "Yes." in (7a) has no ambiguity.


(0b) Will John not go to work? — formal; as far as I understand, we can perceive this question two ways:
i) the questioner thinks John will go to work, and then we should answer as we did it above in "Won't John go to work?";
ii) the questioner thinks John will not go to work, and then we should answer the way I consider below:

(1b) No, he will not. — natural
(2b) No, he will. — natural but informal; the answerer wants to emphasize his disagreement with the questioner who thinks John will not go to work
(3b) No. — natural, usually means "No, he will not."; but also can be perceived ambiguous, meaning both "No, he will." and "No, he will not."

(4b) Yes, he will. — natural
(5b) Yes, he will not. — unnatural
(6b) Yes, You're right. He will not. — natural
(7b) Yes. — natural, usually means "Yes, he will."; but also can be perceived ambiguous, meaning both "Yes, he will." and "Yes, You're right. He will not."

Some conclusions:
(2b) is correct, that's why the short answer "No." in (3b) is ambiguous.
(6b) is correct, that's why the short answer "Yes." in (7b) is ambiguous.


Do you agree with all I wrote or maybe something is still wrong?

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I think there is a key misunderstanding at the base of the chain of logic here:

(0a) Won't John go to work?

I take this to mean that the speaker thinks that John ought to go to work, but probably will not. Note that this is probably a rhetorical question, meaning John ought to go to work, but he shows no sign of doing so. The speaker is not expecting a yes or no response at all. This changes the effective meaning of some of the possible responses. Specifically:

(2a) No, he will. This is correct. The responder is disagreeing with the speaker's assumption that John will not in fact go to work.

(3a) No. — Totally ambiguous. It is quite unclear what the responder thinks. Probably the responder agrees with the speaker's assumption that John will not go to work.

(6a) Yes, you're right. He will not. — Natural, the responder is agreeing with the speaker that John probably will not go to work.

(7a) Yes. — Quite unclear. The responder might simply be agreeing with the speaker's complaint abut John's actions.

(0b) Will John not go to work? — This is more formal than (0a), but has exactly the same meaning, and so the various responses have the same meanings as if made to (0a).

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  • I would never say "No, he will" in that context - I would say "[Oh] yes, he will." Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 7:49
  • That, ambiguous answer is pretty common in the English speaking world.
    – Ghost
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 17:47

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