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When “no” means yes Posted by on Jul 6, 2012 in Countries, Culture, Grammar, Languages, Phrases

One challenge in learning a language comes up when a word in one language is also a word in another, but with a completely different meaning. The word “no” is a good example of that. In English, of course, it is a negative response. And it is such a basic word, and so frequently used that it is hard for a lot of people to not associate this word with negation.

You see in Polish, there is also a word that is spelled and pronounced exactly like the English no. Its meaning, however, is closer to yeah. That’s right, no means yeah. More or less. If someone asks you a question, in Polish, you aren’t likely to reply with no… you might say tak (yes), or nie (no), but not no. Instead, you will say no when you are agreeing with what someone just said — sort of like saying yeah, or uh-huh, or just nodding to indicate that you’re still paying attention.

Here are some examples:

Jesteś zainteresowany? (Are you interested?)

No, jestem (Yeah, I’m)

Naprawdę? (Really?)

No! (Yeah)

Masz ochotę na lody? (Do you feel like ice cream?)

No, dużą ochotę! (Yes, I really do!)

No to dobra (yes it’s good – usually t the end of conversation)

No oczywiście! (of course!)

Are you confused yet?

You will probably hear “no” a lot of times during the conversation…sometimes people just say it to let you know that they are listening to you!

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


Comments:

  1. Richard Polakiewicz:

    This is ‘spot on’. None of my lessons taught this lesson about the Polish word ‘no’. Needless to say, I was (at first) shocked to hear a Polish speaker, saying, to another Polish speaker ‘No…no…’ with the same intonation as ‘yeah, that is right, yes’.

    Never forgot that ‘lesson’.

  2. Paulina:

    “No” can be “yes” but it also strenghtens the sentence:
    “No chodź!” (or “Chodź no!”), “No przestań” – you would say when you are irritated. Intonation is the most important factor.

    It’s also good to mention that we use a lot of “a” in the beginning of sentences: “A co?”, “A daj mi spokój”, “A nie mam”.

  3. Sebastiane:

    I am third generation Polish-American, born and raised in Chicago. Me and my family always used the term “no” as an affirmative.

    EX:
    Q: You had fun today?
    A: No, of course!

    I never really thought about this quirk until I left my area. I was talking to a guy and he was telling me how he was bilingual and I responded with “no”, as in “yeah.” He thought I was disagreeing with him, then I had to explain to him that where I am from, no can also mean “yeah.”

    Fast forward a year or two later when I was living in Poland, I realized the usage must have been some strange Polish quirk that has survived the generations. Using “no” as an affirmative didn’t seem strange to me at all. In fact, I was surprised that this was a Polish idiom and not an American one.

    I wonder if there are other Polish-Americans out there who have used “no” as an affirmative, not really realizing it.

  4. Mary:

    What is most confusing is watching a polish speaker on the phone and listening to them say “no….no…..no…” while nodding.
    It’s taken a lot of practice to be able to nod and say no!

  5. pepa:

    Its same also in Czech … NO (yeah) X NE (no)

  6. Melissa:

    When I first met my in-laws, I was thoroughly confused with the no. Few years later, I got used to the idea no means yeah, especially when I am around them. And they got used to the idea that when I said no, it actually means no, nie.

    Languages are fun. What one word means in another language means another thing all together.

  7. PeterCub:

    No, macie rację! (Yeah, you are right!).

  8. Paulina:

    Polish “No” is very similar to “Nu” what Belarusians usually use in the same context.

  9. Darek:

    Ref to the 2nd paragraph. I can’t agree that the Polish ‘no’ (yeah) and the English one (no) are pronounced in exactly the same way!
    The ‘o’ sound in Polish ‘no’ is short and open, like in Spanish maybe (but the intonation is rising), while that one in English ‘no’ is a diphthong and sounds like the ‘o’ in ‘go’!
    Only the spelling of these two words in both languages doesn’t differ at all.
    Regards!

  10. Larry:

    You know, in conversational Indonesian, ‘tak’ means ‘no’ (English no, that is). In Polish and Ukrainian, ‘tak’ means yes!

  11. Kate:

    Kasia, are there variations on the word “yes” in Polish? For example, in English we use yes, certainly, sure, absolutely, of course, definitely, for sure, etc. I’m wondering if there are other words aside from “tak” in Polish that also can be used to mean yes (or a more emphatic yes). I’m working on a project and this info would be so useful to me! Thanks.