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English Questions: When does ‘no’ mean ‘no problem’?

doctor saying no
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Please note: this post contains advice on Advanced English grammar. For Essential English grammar for Healthcare, check out SLC’s beginner’s course here.

English questions can be very confusing – both for asking, and for understanding. As you saw last week, some questions don’t sound like questions. But if you’re studying Medical English, you’ll need to understand not only the questions, but how you should answer.

Perhaps you know polite answers such as ‘Yes, of course,’ or ‘Absolutely, no problem.’ But there are also questions when, if you want to answer positively, you should actually say ‘no.’

These questions begin with Would you… and a negative-meaning phrase. That’s not a negative question, like ‘Don’t you want to…?’ Instead, the implied meaning is negative. These are words such as the verbs to mind and to bother. They include phrases such as a problem and terribly inconvenient.

And because the meaning is negative, any positive response should be ‘no’.

If you’re confused, look at the examples below.

Original meaning

Polite question

Possible answer

Can you help me with this patient?

Would you mind helping me with this patient?


No, not at all (= that’s fine)

Can I borrow this item?

Would it bother you if I borrowed this item?


No, go ahead

Can I take the pills before bed?

Would it be a problem if I took the pills before bed?


Yes, it would actually (= yes, it’s a problem)

Can I change my appointment to a different day?

Would it be terribly inconvenient if I changed my appointment to a different day?


I’m sorry, that won’t be possible


Notice that after ‘if’ the verb takes the past simple form. This makes the question as polite as possible – it’s not a question about the past.

If you’re studying Medical English and you want to brush up on your grammar – perhaps because you’re studying for the OET – then SLC can help you with Advanced Grammar for Healthcare.

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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