Interrogative Sentence

Japanese Negative Questions and How to Respond

Japanese Negative Question

Last time, you learned Japanese wh-questions not related to demonstratives like “だれ先生せんせいですか (who is the teacher)?” Now, you can compose both closed and open questions. In this lesson, we would like to focus on how to respond to questions.

How to Respond to Interrogative Sentences

The way to respond to questions in Japanese is similar to ones in English, apart from when you respond to negative questions. In order to understand the difference, let’s learn the theory one by one.

Basic Responses to Affirmative Questions

First of all, let us mention a cultural difference. In Japan’s culture, pronouns such as “you,” “he,” and “she” are rarely used. Instead, we often just omit or substitute people’s names for them. In this lesson, we will use people’s names with translations in which pronouns are used.

Closed Questions with Nouns

Q. キムさんは大学生だいがくせい(ですか)?
Are you a university student?
(うん / はい)、大学生だいがくせい(だ / です)よ。
Yes, [I’m] a university student.
(ううん / いいえ)、大学生だいがくせいじゃない(です)よ。
No, [I’m] not a university student.
(うん / はい)、そう(だ / です)よ。
Yes, [I] am.
(ううん / いいえ)、(ちがう / ちがいます)よ。
No, [I] am not.

There are two patterns. The first is to repeat what you’re asked, which is 大学生だいがくせい in this case. The second is to utilize the demonstrative そう. You can also say “No” with そう like “そうじゃない,” however, we think that using “ちがう: to differ” is more common.

Closed Questions with Others

Q. キムさんはいそがしい(ですか)?
Are you busy?
(うん / はい)、いそがしい(です)よ。
Yes, [I’m] busy.
(ううん / いいえ)、いそがしくない(です)よ。
No, [I’m] not busy.
Q. キムさんは本語ほんごべんきょうする(の / んですか)?
Will you study Japanese?
(うん / はい)、べんきょう(する / します)よ。
Yes, [I] will study [it].
(ううん / いいえ)、べんきょうしない(です)よ。
No, [I] will not study [it].

There is one pattern. You have to repeat what you’re asked which are いそがしい and べんきょうする here. You can use そう only when you’re asked with nouns.

Open Questions

Q. キムさんはなにべんきょうする(の / んですか)?
What language will you study?
ほん(だ / です)よ。
[It] is Japanese.
ちゅうごくべんきょう(する / します)よ。
[I] will study Chinese.
Q. キムさんはなんで本語ほんごべんきょうする(の / んですか)?
Why will you study Japanese?
ほんのマンガがきなん(だ / です)。
[I] like Japanese manga.
みつ(だ / です)よ。
[It] is a secret.

When you respond to open questions, you cannot say yes and no. You have to respond to the question words. Note: when you explain reasons, the explanatory のだ(んだ)often appears.


How Negative Questions Work

Negative questions have several functions, which we will explain in other lessons. Here, we would like to focus on the basic ones. Negative questions can be divided into two purposes: the first is simply to ask yes or no, and the second is to ask whether your guess is correct or not.

Conjugation Rule

Question Marker: か
  Casual Polite (Colloquial) Polite
Rain (noun) あめじゃない あめじゃないですか? あめじゃありませんか?
Cold (i-adjective) さむくない さむくないですか? さむくありませんか?
To fall (verb) らない らないですか? りませんか?
Question Marker: の
  Casual Polite (Colloquial) Polite
Rain (noun) あめじゃないの? あめじゃないんですか? あめじゃないのですか?
Cold (i-adjective) さむくないの? さむくないんですか? さむくないのですか?
To fall (verb) らないの? らないんですか? らないのですか?

The conjugation rule works the same as the one for normal questions. When it comes to casual expressions with か, the form of the negative question is exactly the same as the negative sentence. Pronouncing the last letter with rising intonation, Japanese people usually distinguish them.

Negative Questions to Ask Yes or No

Q. デザートはべない(の / んですか)?
As for dessert, won’t you eat it?
うん / はい)、べない(です)。
, [I] won’t eat [it].
ううん / いいえ)、(べる / べます)。
Yes, [I] will eat [it].
Q. マンガはきじゃない(ですか)?
Don’t [you] like manga?
うん / はい)、きじゃない(です)。
No, [I] don’t like [it].
ううん / いいえ)、き(だ / です)よ。
Yes, [I] like [it].

The first function is to simply ask “Yes” or “No.” This is where English speakers often make a mistake. When it comes to responses in this context, “Yes” and “No” work in the opposite way of English. うん and はい indicates negative responses while ううん and いいえ indicates affirmative responses.

Negative Questions to Ask While Guessing

Q. これはちがいじゃない(ですか)?
Isn’t this wrong?
(うん / はい)、ちがい(だ / です)ね。
Yes, [it] is wrong.
(ううん / いいえ)、ちがいじゃない(です)よ。
No, [it] is not wrong.
Q. キムさんは韓国人かんこくじんじゃない(ですか)?
Isn’t Kim-san Korean?
(うん / はい)、そう(だ / です)ね。
Yes, [he/she] is.
(ううん / いいえ)、(ちがう / ちがいます)よ。
No, [he/she] is not.

The second function is to ask whether your guess is correct or not. The above questions are said when you think that “this is wrong. (Ex 1)” and “Kim-san is Korean (Ex 2).” In this context, “Yes” and “No” work in a normal way.

Advanced Topic: Volitional Verbs with Negative Questions

When you use volitional verbs such as “べる: to eat” and “く: to go,” in negative questions, you have to use the quotation marker の. This is because the form: “べない (Won’t [you] eat [it])?” can be interpreted as inviting. *You will learn how to invite in detail in future lessons.


  1. When you respond to closed questions with nouns, そう and ちがう work well.
  2. When you respond to closed questions without nouns, you need to repeat the predicates.
  3. Negative questions ask yes or no, or whether your guess is correct.
  4. When you respond to yes-or-no negative questions, your answer needs to work in the opposite way to English.

We think the structure of negative questions is not complicated. Only the yes-or-no negative questions matter. Try not to think about the grammatical rules in English. It’s important to learn Japanese as it is. Next, you will tackle the last lesson in this interrogative sentence section. Question words are sometimes used outside of wh-questions. You will learn the usage.

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