Usually "entweder - oder"-questions are answered by naming one of the options, e.g. "Möchtest du Ketchup oder Mayo(naise) zu deinen Pommes?" - "Ich möchte (bitte) Ketchup."

Today two friends of mine claimed that answering "Ja" would by equal to choosing the first option. This is the first time ever I heard that claim and I am very skeptical. Hence I would like to know: Are they correct? Could I answer "Ja" when asked to choose, and "automatically" opt for #1?

Disclaimer: We're all native german speakers, but grew up in different regions. I stem from north of Hamburg, while my friends grew up close to Berlin. Maybe this is a dialect-"thing"?

  • 5
    Wenn Sie doch Muttersprachler sind, warum stellen Sie die Frage dann auf Englisch? Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 12:18
  • In order to allow all users to participate and understand the question, since a lot other questions are in English, too. But thank you for proving prejudices about Germans =)
    – Erik
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 12:19
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    @Erik: The native language of many of the visitors here is neither English or German, and they speak German better than English. For them, even if they're just learning German, it would be better to pose the question in German. If you really want to be inclusive then ask in both languages.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 14:07
  • 1
    My prejudices about Germans are much better served by Germans asking a question about the German language in a bilingual forum about the German language in English. That's the most German move possible.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 14:40
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    By the way, "oder" questions sometimes allow two choices: "Möchtest Du Wasser oder Wein zum Essen trinken?" In other cases only one choice is possible. "Möchtest Du mitkommen oder zuhause bleiben?" And it seems to me that the phrase "entweder ... oder" is exclusively used in declarative statements like "Du kannst entweder einen Apfel oder eine Banane bekommen." At least I have never heard a question of the form "Kann ich entweder einen Apfel oder eine Banane bekommen?"
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 16:19

5 Answers 5


What your friends say is true in one special case: if the oder part of the question is just a flat negation of the first part, which is not uncommon with exclusive or questions:

Wollen wir noch eins trinken oder nicht? - Ja.
Willst du mitgehen oder willst du nicht mitgehen? - Ja.

If the negation is less explicit, you need some goodwill to understand it in that way:

Hast du einen Schlüssel dabei oder hast du keinen dabei? - Ja.
Hat dir der Film denn nun gefallen oder war er schlecht? - Ja.

For other cases, "ja" means either "both" or "at least one of them":

A: Möchtest du ein Eis oder ein Stück Kuchen?
B: Ja.
A: Ja, was?
B: Ja, Kuchen.

There's this internet joke/meme that's catching on where "ja" is the answer to a "wie" question:

Wie cute kann man sein? - Katzenbabies: Ja.
Wieviele Kekse willst du haben? - Krümelmonster: Ja. (meaning as many as possible, all of them)

I think some (mostly younger) persons transfer this to entweder-oder and mean "both" when answering "ja":

Ketchup oder Mayo? - Ja. (meaning: both, lmao)

I have never met anyone before though who'd say that the answer "ja" to the question "Ketchup oder Mayo auf die Pommes?" would mean "Ketchup".


As a native speaker (I'm from Darmstadt, south hesse, near Frankfurt a.M.) I have to disagree with your friends. I'd be rather confused if they answer me that questions with "Ja" and I'd ask again, because I wouldn't understand them.

There is one very specific case where you might get along with just "Ja" or "Nein", and that's if - and only if - you answer very quickly, even before the question has been finished. So, applied to your example, consider this dialog:

"Möchtest du Ketchup..." - "Ja".

The moment the person asking mentions multiple options, this doesn't work any more (in my opinion).

  • Grammatically a either/or question is the same as a yes/no question and it's only by tone of voice and context that you can tell them apart. The same rule holds in English and has been the source of many bad jokes, at least in English.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 14:13
  • @Sorry for repeating that part in my answer, +1.
    – guidot
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 17:00

I am also a native speaker (Baden-Wuerttemberg) and sometimes I answer these questions with "Ja", but always meant jokingly.

The meaning then is "yes I'd like one or the other" or in German:

natürlich will ich eines der beiden haben.

Sometimes -depending on context and mood- it can also mean: I want both of them.

These answers of course only answer the question literally without answering the questions intention.

Similarly a colleague of mine answers "Ja" to his childrens' question "Kannst Du mir die Zeit sagen?" because that is what is asked: Of course he is able to tell them the time.... He then demands them to ask more precise questions to get the desired answer.

So: As far as I am concerned I agree with you and disagree with your friend.


If the question was completely asked, when the answer was given, I guess it completely depends. The potential ambiguity between:

  • first,
  • second
  • both
  • I don't care
  • I don't want to tell you

can't be universally resolved.

If the answer came before the second choice was even mentioned, I would also vote for the first option, but this unlikely to happen for short alternatives as Ketchup oder Majo.

Of course for all possible choices better answers exist and in a strict sense ja is only a valid answer for yes/no questions.

  • Streng genommen ist "Ja" eine vernünftige, logische Antwort auf die Frage "Möchtest Du Ketchup oder Majo auf die Pommes?" Außer man will will weder das eine, noch das andere. :) Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 22:19

This is a joke. In Boolean logic something is true, if at least one operand in an OR operation is true. In Exclusive OR "Entweder oder" the result is exclusively true, if one operand is true.

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