'Yes' Is An 'Adverb'?!

First, a crash course in grammar. The 8 parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, interjections and conjunctions.

Now, that having been said, a little background. From time to time, I pick up my unabridged dictionary, and just randomly leaf thru it. While doing that a short while ago, I came across the simple word Yes. Interesting word Yes. Simple, yet in many ways just taken for granted, I think. Anyways, while looking at the description of this word, I was surprised that the dictionary classified Yes as an “adverb”.

Really? An “adverb”? I personally classify it as an interjection. In any event, I know it’s not an adverb. For one thing, you can’t use it as one in a sentence.

Consider the following examples:

He ran quickly to school. can’t become

He ran yes to school. Can it?

Also, “Go home” doesn’t make sense as “Go yes”.

Am I wrong?


Interjection: “an ejaculatory utterance usually lacking grammatical connection”

“Yes” usually has a grammatical connection.

I’m no linguist, but second guessing the dictionary on definitions of the language of grammar seems foolish to me. If you look up “adverb”, you’ll find that it’s defined as “a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content”

He ran consequently to school. doesn’t work either, but that doesn’t mean consequently isn’t an adverb. Correct use of yes, in your example, would be
Yes, he ran to school. Affirmation of the sentence.

’Yes’ Is An ‘Adverb’?!

Yes, it is.

It modifies the verb “is”.

I’m not convinced that there’s even a point in fussing about whether it does, or can, modify a verb. The class of “adverb” seems to be a catch-all dumping ground for all sorts of miscellaneous words that are used in lots of ways, as shown by the definition quoted by naita above. If you can’t figure out what it is, call it an adverb.

There’s a lot of arbitrariness anyway. A great many words can be used in ways other than there “usual” classification.

Nouns can be used as adjectives: I want a chicken burrito. What part of speech is “chicken” there? It modifies “burrito.” (At least there’s a name for that construct: It’s called an adjunct noun.)

Likewise, possessive nouns and pronouns function as adjectives, since they modify another noun.

And then there’s the whole class of “helper verbs” which often seem to be called “verbs” only for lack of anything better of call them. May as well call those “adverbs” too!

I refuse to cite one of the most famous last few words in English/World literature. Uh-uh. Not gonna.

‘Yes’ is an adjective in this sentence: “Don’t count on him for a valid critique, he’s just a yes man.”

A sentence can consist of a single word, right?


I’ve seen arguments that the various forms of “to be”, while functioning as verbs, are actually a different part of speech. When you say, “X is Y”, X is not doing anything to Y at all. At the very least, copulas are weird verbs.

“Yes” and “no” don’t fit easily into the standard “word type” categories. Latin rather than having dedicated words for them, used some adverbs as truth indicators, the same way one might use “certainly” both as an intensifying adverb and an interjection:

As adverb: “He certainly screwed the pooch.”

As interjection: “Did he screw the pooch?” “Certainly.”

And I suspect that usage, and the reverence prescriptive grammarians have for Latin is why the dictionary calls “yes” an adverb.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”?

He was thinking of his wife, Molly. (I know you knew that – but I wanted to show off!)

Well, as well him as another.

Not really. “Yes” in that context is part of the idiomatic phrase “yes man”. You can’t just go around calling things “yes Xs”.

There’s a book called “Getting to Yes”. In this case, "Yes is a noun. This is the flexibility of English, a word’s type can change depending on usage.

“Yes man” may be an idiomatic phrase, or yes may be an adjective the same as “thin man” or “tall man”.

In general, though, used in normal context, I would consider them interjections, or ejaculations ;D or whatever the correct word type is.

Consider that used in its correct contect, “Yes” and “No” form complete sentences and stand on their own. Sounds pretty much the definition of that word type, much like “Hello!”. You can find other uses and context - “I have no money” - No is used in a very different way from the one word reply;

Whereas many other single word sentences have implied pieces omitted - “sorry” is generally “I am sorry”, “Thanks” may be taken as shorthand for “I thank you”, etc. “Yes” does not have this implied context.

Except maybe “yes, we have no bananas…”

In our democratic society the grammar nazis do not rule. There are no sharp edges in grammar, we are all equal to speak as we wish provided we do not break the established rules.


Also known as “state-of-being verbs”. Note that “to be” isn’t the only one. Other verbs may work this way, depending on how they are used:

“A cat looks at a king.” – Here, “looks” is an active verb, describing something that the cat is actually doing.

“The lake looks cold.” – Here, “looks” is a state-of-being verb. Note that the lake isn’t actually doing anything here. It’s just sitting there, minding its own business.

Yes is not an adverb. It is what linguists and grammarians cal “sentence word”, in that it’s occurrence in a language is understood to be a substitute for an entire sentence. Depending on the question, which is known to the listener, “Yes” means “I ate all the cake” or “I am paying attention to you, even though I don’t look like it”, or George W. Bush is an asshole.".

Some languages, like Mandarin and Finnish, have no word “Yes”. In answer to a question it is necessary to repeat the verb. “Did you eat all the cake?” “Ate.” In Mandarin, it frequently suffices to say the verb “to be” instead of the original verb, which has grown to function as “Yes” regardless of the question, which in Mandarin sounds conveniently like the English word “Sure”, another sentence word. Following that pattern, it is reasonable to speculate that “Yes” may have evolved as a form of the verb “to be”. In the same way that “sure” is a poprtmanteau for “You can be sure that that is correct.” Moslt languages have numerous synonyms for yes" such as “Claro” and “d’accord” amd “M-hmm”…

There are numerous sentence words in English, such as “OK”, “Hello”, “Ouch” and “Shit!”, all of which are readily understood by the listener to convey the idea embraced by a complete but unstated sentence.

Well put. Romance languages tend to use words derived from Latin adverbs meaning “thus” – that is, “in the manner (you just described)”. Sic is basically “thus,” while ita vero is basically “truly in this way.” So, it’s not a stretch to see English “yes” as behaving adverbally in a similar fashion. But I don’t know the Germanic origins of ja or whatever. Seems like maybe it was a less complex way of stating assent than the Latin adverbs – perhaps even rooted in some shout to drive animals or something? – but I’m just guessing. Any Proto-Germanic scholars out there?

Sure enough, “yes” – rather like Latin phrases like ita vero – was originally (in Proto-Germanic) a two-word phrase meaning basically “thus it is” – so, the “thus” part can be considered adverbial (“my sentiments go thusly”), or equally adjectival (“it is so”).

The “thus” part was “gea” in Old English (still seen as “yea”), from Proto-Indo-European i-, also the root of English “if” and Latin id (he, it) and idem (same).

The “it is” part was “sie” (“may it be so”) in Old English, from Proto-Indo-European *es-, * also the root of English “is” and Latin “esse” (to be, including “est” - he/she/it is).

(Source: American Heritage Dictionary)

The categories that most of us were taught as the parts of speech are close to those that were defined a couple of thousand years ago for Classical Greek. There’s no reason to think that they would be very accurate for today’s English. In fact, they fit modern English only in a very sloppy way. It’s a waste of time to try to fit some words into that categorization. Here’s some things on parts of speech: