Negative Questions

Miscellaneous - Lesson #7

We can make negative questions in English. These questions usually start with negative contractions, but can also use the long form.
  • Aren't you tired?
  • Isn't he married?
  • Haven't you been here before?
There are two important things to remember.

1. These questions are only used with yes/no questions.
  • Didn't you quit your job last week?
  • Isn't she sick today?
  • Doesn't she have children?
  • What is not your name?
2. These questions can be confusing to answer. Even native speakers sometimes get confused. There is an easy way to solve this problem. Do not answer with one word (Yes/No). Instead use a short sentence.

A) Aren't you tired?
B) Yes, I am tired.

A) Hasn't she been to Europe?
B) No, she hasn't.

When and why do we use negative questions?

1. We use negative questions to confirm information that we think we know.

A) Aren't you a vegetarian?
B) Yes, that's right.

A) Didn't you buy a new car last week?
B) No. You are thinking of Kathy. She bought a new car.

Similarly, this can also be used to show surprise.

Situation: I see Kathy in the winter. It is very cold outside, but she is wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I am surprised to see her wearing shorts and a T-shirt, so I can say:
  • Aren't you cold?
Situation: I see Mark eating meat. But I know or think that he is a vegetarian. So, I am very surprised to see him eating meat. So, I can say this to Carol:
  • Isn't Mark a vegetarian? Why is he eating meat?
2. We can use negative questions to start a conversation. It is also a way to get somebody to agree with you.
  • Isn't it a beautiful day?
  • Don't you love this restaurant?
3. There is one negative question that is a little different.

Why don't we…? = Let's….
  • Why don't we go to the park?
    (=Let's go to the park.)
Sometimes, "why" questions can be used to give advice in the same way that the word "should" is used.

Why doesn't he/she…? = He/She should…
Why don't they…? = They should…
  • Why doesn't he quit his job?
    (=He should quit his job.)
However, sometimes negative "why" questions are really just asking for a reason. We can tell by the situation and how the person asks the question.

A) Why doesn't he like it?
B) Because it is too spicy.

Make sure that you understand this English grammar point well. It is important to know if you want to speak English fluently.