The Pleasure of Saying Yes

By Rob Packer

Disagreement is unpleasant: you have to change your plans, you get in an argument, and you don’t get what you want. Far simpler is just to avoid all the unpleasantness and go out of your way to avoid a negative answer: the British and the Japanese are just two nationalities of many stereotyped for doing this. After all, it’s far easier to call an idea interesting, than saying “No, are you mad? Of course not!” Compared to this, the affirmative is easy.

I’ve now been in Argentina for a week and this, of course, means speaking Spanish to shop assistants, baristas and the like—rather than just with my better half, as happens in Brazil. Apart from the odd moment of narcissistic bliss when someone inexplicably asks me if I’m Argentine, this has also made me realize that there’s something I’ve missed during these months in Portuguese-speaking Brazil: the pleasure of saying yes.

This isn’t to say that you can’t agree in Portuguese, but when you first learn Brazilian Portuguese* , most people will tell you that the word for yes is sim. This isn’t strictly true. What they save for the advanced class is that you really only say sim when you could never say yes in English. You actually say something along the lines of “it is”, “I am”, “lets”, “I do”, etc. (according to Wikipedia, this is similar to Chinese, Welsh or Latin). This means paying attention to the exact words being spoken to you: I know I use the wrong word a lot of the time.

On the other hand, Spanish does have a word for yes; it’s . You can use it all the time or repeat it as many times as you like. And the best bit is that—so far—it’s instinctive: unfortunately, that can’t be said for the other mistakes that the similarities between Portuguese and Spanish have had me making over the past week.

 *I’m unsure if this is also the case in European or African Portuguese.

2 Responses to The Pleasure of Saying Yes

  1. ashling says:

    I like this little one. The truth is, in Portuguese in Portugal, if someone asks “are you home”, you could say “sim” but would more often say “estou”: i.e. you respond with the relevant person of the verb in the question. if you want to be doubly “affirmative” you can use the colloquial “estou/comi/fui/dormi/(whatever verb!) sim senhora!!!” 🙂
    I’d never really thought about this and it’s an interesting point. But I think in this day and age of speed typing/texting and short-shrift conversations the plain, flat “sim” is often used.

    • robpacker says:

      It’s exactly the same in Brazil. There is a (potentially) scurrilous rumour in Brazil about the way the Portuguese use the affirmative though:
      – Você pode abrir a janela? -Posso
      And no windows are opened.

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