I was a bit surprised at first when I discovered that Chinese doesn't have single words or expressions for "yes" or "no", and that instead we must use the verb from the question to either confirm or deny. The difficulty is not insurmountable if we can understand the verb from the question, but there seems to be exceptions, and this brings me to the object of the question.

I have this sentence and I need to modify as a yes/no question and then answer both positively and negatively:

Wǒ mèimei lái Mĕiguó.

Yes/No Question:
Nĭ mèimei lái Mĕiguó ma?

I answered with "来。/不来。", but looking at the key of the exercise, enough surprisingly I noticed I was wrong, since I should have answered "是。/不是。".

Why is 是 used here instead of 来? Is this event contemplated in the grammar, I mean, are there rules/guidelines to know when we can use 是 even if it's not the verb used in the question?

  • 2
    As a native speaker, I will answer with “来" and "不来", or “是" and "不是"(much less likely).
    – Huang
    Dec 17, 2011 at 12:31
  • @Huang And so why is it also possible to answer 是?
    – Alenanno
    Dec 17, 2011 at 12:34
  • 2
    I mean I will more like answer with the verb itself,but if the listener answers me with "是", I won't get surprised. That's oK. And if someone asks me "你妹妹明天来,是吗?", I wil more likely say “是" or “不是".
    – Huang
    Dec 17, 2011 at 12:52
  • That sentence is "Your sister is coming tomorrow, isn't she?", right? :D +1 thank you, you just taught me a new thing in Chinese :D
    – Alenanno
    Dec 17, 2011 at 12:54
  • 1
    @Huang Languages have logic, otherwise they wouldn't be usable... :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 17, 2011 at 12:57

3 Answers 3


我妹妹来美国。= My sister is coming to the States.
Wǒ mèimei lái Mĕiguó.

Yes/No Question:
你妹妹来美国吗? = Is your sister coming to the States?
Nĭ mèimei lái Mĕiguó ma?

Under this circumstances, both 来/不来 and 是/不是 are acceptable and can be understood with no difficulties. However, I have to disagree with your key to the exercise because 来/不来 is much more commonly used by native speaker. Chinese usually use the main verb in the questions to answer them.

I can understand the confusion. It is probably caused by the fact that "是/不是" means the same thing for "yes/no", "is/is not", "are/ are not" and "am/ am not". Let me use a few example to illustrate my point:

  • 你妹妹美国吗? Is your sister coming to the States?
  • The way Chinese commonly do is: 。It means: Yes.

The full answer is: 是的,她。Which, in English, should be: Yes, she is. Here "is" refers to "is coming", where the main verb is"".

  • 你妹妹是美国人吗? Is your sister American?
  • The correct way in Chinese is: 的。Also means Yes.

However, this time, the main verb is "is". So the full answer is "是的,她的。"meaning, "Yes, she is." See we have two "是" here, meaning differently (yes and is) in English. This is where you need to use "是/不是”。

  • You pretty much answer my question but there is something I don't see... Which is: are there rules or guidelines or a rule of thumb to know WHEN I can use 是 too?
    – Alenanno
    Dec 17, 2011 at 15:36
  • Other than the situation i talked above, sometimes we use 是 when the main verb in the clause is "is/are/am". eg. 你觉得我妹妹是美国人吗? Do you think my sister is american? 是的。where the english is Yes, I do.
    – baoye
    Dec 17, 2011 at 15:40
  • I don't think more answers are coming, and you helped me! Thank you! :)
    – Alenanno
    Dec 21, 2011 at 20:46

You can answer "对" for "Yes", and "不对" for "No". It's also fine to answer "来/不来" (these answers are correct).


In Chinese, there is no single word that exactly equates to yes and no. You have to answer with different words depending on the context/ grammar of the question. But there is still a basic rule to follow:

To answer yes, you just need to repeat the verb used in the question. To answer no, you just need to say the negation word bù不/ + verb used in the question.

For example, the question "Is your sister coming to the United States?" can be phrased with those questions in Chinese.

1: nĭ mèi mei yào lái mĕi guó ma? 你妹妹要来美国吗? The verb is 来, so the correct answer is 来 or 不来.

2: nĭ mèi mei yào lái mĕi guó, shì mɑ?你妹妹要来美国,是吗? The verb is 是, so the correct answer 是 or 不是.

3: nĭ mèi mei yào lái mĕi guó, duì mɑ?你妹妹要来美国,对吗? The verb is 对, so the correct answer is 对 or 不对.

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