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I understand that in military or police or some other formal situations "jawohl" is the positive response to a command, much like "yes sir" in English; but how does a soldier say "no sir"?

In addition, is "jawohl" also used in answering a yes/no question instead of a command? Like, when a soldier is asked by a superior "are you the only child", does he say "jawohl" or "ja", or "ja" followed by something else?

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I'm not sure if "jawohl" can be understood as "yes sir". After all it would be more adequate to answer "Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann" or the like (also for a yes/no question) – Hagen von Eitzen Jul 31 '13 at 19:30
A soldier never says "No, Sir". – user unknown Aug 1 '13 at 23:17
@userunknown not when executing a command, but when answering a question. --"Are you betraying your country?" --"No, sir". – Riff Schelder Aug 3 '13 at 0:38
Ich habe nicht gedient - meines Wissens wird ein Soldat aber nicht gefragt. – user unknown Aug 5 '13 at 23:08
though I have never served in the army I think that "nein, Herr Offizier (Major etc) would be the correct answer. Anyway, it is very old fashioned and should be forbidden because of the negative background during the past 30th and 40th – user3235 Aug 6 '13 at 20:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The opposite of "Jawohl" is "Nein". However, see below.

"Jawohl" is more of an acknowledgement ("I have understood and will comply with your request") than an answer to a yes/no question, "Sind Sie ein Einzelkind?" would be answered with "Ja" or "Nein".

Thus, in my experience, in a military context, the question of an opposite of "Jawohl" rarely arises. If it's an order, you have to follow it, if it was a question, "Ja" is the more appropriate answer. If you want to try your hand at insubordination, "Nein" is totally up to the job.

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What would a soldier say after "Ja" or "Nein" to a yes/no question? i.e. what's the equivalent of the "sir" part of "yes sir"? Actually this goes beyond a military context as English speakers, even civilians, would say "yes, sir", or "no ma'am" for politeness when answering a yes/no question posed by a stranger / customer / etc. – Riff Schelder Aug 1 '13 at 22:11
There is the generic "Ja, mein Herr", which, however, is terribly outdated. In a military context, you would append the rank ("Jawohl/Ja/Nein, Herr Oberfeldwebel"). In a civilian context, there is no equivalent to "Sir/Ma'am", to avoid curtness, you simply create a short sentence. "Sind Sie ein Einzelkind?", "Ja, bin ich". – adhominem Aug 2 '13 at 8:15
Also, in the military, it is common to repeat a short part of the order after the "Jawohl" to confirm that you understood correctly. "Fegen Sie den Hof, Herr Obergefreiter" - "Jawohl, Hof fegen" is perfectly fine and actually common in a daily routine. – adhominem Aug 2 '13 at 8:19

"Jawohl" comes from the middle high German "Ja wol", which would be translated as "Yes, certainly" or similar. The opposite would then be: "Natürlich nicht", "Auf keinen Fall", "Niemals" or a variation of it ("Absolutely not", "In no case", "never").

As has been stated before, it is often used in the military ("Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann," a famous quote from Büchner's Woyzeck), but the use of it is by no means restricted to answering to an authority. A bunch of slightly inebriated men in a beer garden agreeing on politics come to mind ...

As for the military opposite meaning: I have only heard a plain "Nein, Frau Kapitänin" (substitute your favorite rank and gender).

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What if I don't know the rank of the other person -- is there a generic "sir" or "ma'am" equivalent? – Riff Schelder Aug 1 '13 at 22:16
You could say "Jawohl, Herr/Frau Offizier/in" - in the military context, and "Jawohl, mein Herr/Madame" for civilian, "Frau Doktor", "Herr Professor" for people that might fall into those categories (and if they don't have the title, it can be used mockingly). I chose the French "Madame" because it works well with the forceful "Jawohl" - better than "meine Dame", and the French version would be used/understood in Germany. But in general, the specific title or name (Frau Meier, etc.) is always preferred, and the automatic adding of something like "Sir" or "Ma'am" is not that common in Germany. – Ursula Aug 1 '13 at 22:52
@Ursula But the "Offizier" is a certain rank of superior, in Germany you better know the precise rank when you say "Jawohl Herr Feldwebel". – contradictioned Aug 2 '13 at 7:26
@contradictioned "Offizier" is used for a group of several ranks, for example from "Leutnant" to "General". The exact ranks that are included in "Offiziere" depend on the country and military branch. See I agree that is preferred to use the specific rank. – Ursula Aug 2 '13 at 18:15

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