The Magic Words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

A review of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ across times and cultures, computers and dog training

  • Roger A. B. Abrantes Ethology Institute
Keywords: Yes and No, Signals


‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are two short, one-syllable words, which may convey the most critical information for many organisms, their lives depending on it. At one level, a string of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ processes regulates their organic and cellular functions, at another, their behavior, and ultimately, their survival. If we said these words didn’t require explanation, most would probably agree—and yet we’d be wrong. Some languages don’t have words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and use quantifiers instead, which suggests cognitive and emotional elements connected to their meaning. Both parents and dog owners commit an elementary mistake adding to the aversive connotation of ‘no.’ The universe and machines have no queries with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Maybe ‘yes’ and ‘no’ appeared in some languages when action was more decisive than emotion. 'Yes’ and ‘no’ convey essential bits of information in a succinct and precise way. When communicating in languages, which include them, we can benefit from using them correctly.



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How to Cite
Abrantes, R. (2011, December 1). The Magic Words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Ethology Journal Online, 2(1), 13-19. Retrieved from
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