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In "Japanese for Busy People I" page 2 (kana or romaji edition) it says that いいえ is 'virtually the same as "no"'.

It sounds like there are some differences, but they want to omit mentioning them for the time being. What differences are there?

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The key to whether to reply with はい or いいえ is not whether the form of the question is positive or negative, but whether the question is asked in a way which expects a positive or a negative answer:

一緒に行きませんか?(expects a positive answer)
はい、是非一緒に行きましょう。

一緒に行かないんですか?(expects a negative answer)
はい、残念ながら行けません。

I guess this response could be regarded as cyclic, since the obvious next question would be when a question expects a positive or a negative answer. Usually positive forms expect positive answers and negative forms expect negative answers. The tricky ones are the simple negative-form+か (without んです or のです), which are often used for invitations, or to ask for agreement. An example of an invitation is given above. Below is an example of asking for agreement.

これ、おかしくありませんか?
はい、そうですね。おかしいですね。

Returning to いいえ, I would say that in practise, it's mostly used in the sense which gibbon describes. Using it as "No" sounds pretty strong. More often, the main verb/adjective is repeated in positive/negative as needed.

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With English no:

A: Aren't you hungry?
B: Yes, I am hungry./No, I am not hungry.

But in Japanese, いいえ express whether you agree or not with what was said:

A: お腹が空いていませんか。
B: いいえ、空いています。/はい、空いていません。

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You mean if someone asks 「お腹がすいていない?」 you may respond 「いいえ、すいている」? –  gibbon Mar 31 '12 at 11:57
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I disagree. I would reply はい、空いています to your question. See also my answer. In all situations I can think of, you would be asking this question because either you're hungry yourself, asking for agreement, or you have reason to expect that the other person is hungry, and maybe you're inviting them to eat something. –  dainichi Apr 2 '12 at 1:57
    
@dainichi Am I right in thinking though that without the expectation/invitation element this would be a common pattern? Also, at times when double negatives and so on get confusing it seems people rely much more on the verb than はい or いいえ, often just saying the appropriate negative/positive form of the verb: A:お腹空いてない? B:空いてるよ。 –  ジョン Apr 3 '12 at 4:14
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@ジョン I think it's rare to ask a question with a negative verb (wihtout んです) unless you have the expectation/invitation aspect. If it's a neutral question, I would just ask 空いていますか. If there's a contextual clue that the other person is not hungry, I would ask 空いていないんですか. But I guess in other situations it's possible, e.g. a mother scolding her child: 「先生はまっすぐ帰れって言わなかった?」「うん、言わなかった」But then, 「うん、言った」doesn't sound completely wrong to me either. Yes, repeating the verb is very common. –  dainichi Apr 3 '12 at 4:55
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They might be refering to the fact that いいえ can also be used to essentially say "that's ok" / "no problem" / "don't mention it" when someone appologizes to you or thanks you for something.

Or that there's other ways to say "no" and that you shouldn't take いいえ as the only correct way to say it in all circumstances.

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As a matter of etiquette it's perhaps also worth mentioning that 「いいえ」is not appropriate in all situations where "no" might be appropriate in English and many other languages. It's important to keep this in mind in real life conversation.

For example, when turning down an invitation, 「いいえ」 would often be considered rude, where "no thanks" may be fine in English.

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