Pois não.

A reader sent me a link to this post by André Barbosa from Portuguese Language Blog:

Pois não” is an expression used by Brazilians as well as by the Portuguese and means “yes”, “of course”, “sure.” It’s curious, however, that this expression contains the adverb “não” (not) and means just the opposite.

“Pois não” comes from another expression: “Pois não haveria de (+ infinitive verb)”. Here’s an example on how to use it:

João, você pode me emprestar o seu carro? (João, could you lend me your car?)

Empresto Maria, pois não haveria de emprestar? (Yes Maria, for sure.)

“Pois não haveria de emprestar” (Wouldn’t I lend it? – literal meaning) means that João will lend his car to Pedro for sure. It’s like João assumed the obligation to do that and disapproved not doing it.

It is common in Brazil for salespeople to greet shoppers by saying “pois não?”

A curious expression; compare “yeah no.”


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    “Yeah no” is still perhaps a bit marginal in English, but consider the indubitably mainstream positive use of “why not?” to mean “sure, let’s do it.”

  2. Makes me think of Hebrew xaval al hazman, roughly ‘a waste of time’, used as an approving intensifier; as in “I could go on and on about it.” It can be startling to hear someone say, “we went to see a show, a waste of time”, meaning it was great.

  3. Trond Engen says

    Strange, innit.

  4. cuchuflete says

    In Brazil there is a companion piece to pois não: pois sim (well yes). Spoken with an ironic tone, it means no or certainly not! It’s much like the English use of a positive statement to mean the speaker doesn’t believe what he heard.

    Jack—That fish I caught weighed at least 300 pounds!

    Jill—For sure!/You bet!

  5. I guess the Russian analogue would be “а то нет!”

  6. @chuchuflete, the canonical sarcastic expression of disbelief is ‘Yeah, right!’.

    Re ‘pois não’, I’m not finding it very surprising there would be a negative word in a positive expression:

    – João, could you lend me your car?

    – Why not! Maria, of course.

  7. January First-of-May says

    the canonical sarcastic expression of disbelief is ‘Yeah, right!’

    The Russian equivalent is Ага, конечно!

    (I’ve seen both the English and the Russian in jokes about how two positives can make a negative.)

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Ναι, είναι παράξενο.

  9. In Croatian:
    Što da ne
    Zašto da ne
    Kako da ne – this last one has become a bit of a meme, being facetiously ‘translated’ into English as ‘how yes no’

  10. Bathrobe says

    In Chinese, 可不是吗 kě bu shì ma. It’s an expression of emphatic agreement.

    Literally I guess it’s “emph. not is Q”. Or “Isn’t it, though”. I don’t think you’re supposed to analyse it; it just is, and you learn it as a unit.

  11. Interesting, though, that apparently it is really Pedro to whom he’ll certainly lend it, even though it is Maria asking…;) The patriarchy at work!


  12. There’s even a textbook of Portuguese entitled Pois não. Spanish has ¿cómo no? but it’s meant as a response to a question or request while pois não is also used as a polite, somewhat formal greeting, “How can I help you?” The former usage is old, noted already in António Vieira’s Portuguese grammar first published in 1768. The latter seems more recent and more Brazilian.

  13. William Boyd says

    Reminds me of breakfast table at the rooming house in the D.F. back in ’69 when our host’s son, César, would ask, “¿No me pasa la mantequilla?” We, of course, complied–he did love his “hotcakes.”

  14. the canonical sarcastic expression of disbelief is ‘Yeah, right!’.

    In the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, we have an expression “(bem) capaz”, whose literal meaning would be roughly “it’s (quite) possible”, but which is used in a sense of “no way!” (and in a variety of other situations, depending on intonation).

    “Tu vais à festa?” (Are you going to the party?)
    “Bem capaz!” (No way! [lit. quite possible!])

    Funnily enough, “capaz que não” can be used to mean “of course yes” (i.e., “no way it would be no”), though it requires a specific intonation to be interpreted in this way.

    “Tu vais à festa?” (Are you going to the party?)
    “Capaz que não!” (No way I’m missing it! [lit. possible that no!])

    “Capaz” can also be used as a reply to “thank you”:

    “Obrigado por me ajudar.” (Thanks for helping me.)
    “Capaz!” (i.e., no way you have to thank me for this)

    This sometimes causes confusion when speaking with people from other Brazilian states.

  15. Kako da ne – this last one has become a bit of a meme, being facetiously ‘translated’ into English as ‘how yes no’

    Assuming that the da in the phrase is a subjunctive particle rather than the word ‘yes’, the Romanian equivalent has the same structure: cum să nu.

  16. How did “possible” come to mean “no way”?

  17. How did “possible” come to mean “no way”?

    The expression was ironical originally, like “yeah, right!” in English, but has been lexicalized to such an extent that the ironical shade has been lost and it’s now a general expression of unlikelihood. In fact it can be used ironically now to mean something is likely (!).

  18. David Marjanović says

    Ja, wahrscheinlich
    yeah, probably
    “yeah, right”

  19. CuConnacht says

    Isn’t this possible in English?

    “Would you like a piece of pie?”

    “Wouldn’t I!”


    “Wouldn’t I though!”

  20. Bathrobe says

    I had a Chinese boss who challenged me to negate a sentence without using a negative. The answer was a particular Chinese expression.

    The negative of 好!Hǎo! (“Good!”) is 好个屁! Hǎo ge pì!. 个屁 ge pì means “a fart”. “Good, a fart” means “Not good at all”, with dismissive tone. 个屁 ge pì can be generally added to sentences in the spoken language to indicate derisive dismissal.

    I’ve since realised that in English you can also negate an expression without using a negative, by adding the expression “like fun” (perhaps a bit dated). However, it lacks the derisive element of the Chinese.

  21. An even more dated English negator is (the) devil:

    “My parents are all dead, and the devil a penny they have left me” (Dr. Faustus)

    “For my part, ’twas all Hebrew-Greek to me, the devil a word I could pick out on’t” (Urquhart’s Rabelais)

    “the devil a crumb of butter was ever churned that would stick upon my bread” (Walter Scott)

  22. David Marjanović says

    “like fun”

    “my ass!”
    “in the ‘not’ mode.”

  23. Trond Engen says

    Dated, my ass.

  24. Never heard “like fun”. Is that a euphemism for “like hell”? Never seen “the devil” before, either.

  25. “Good, as if.”

  26. PlasticPaddy says

    I was initially surprised at your “dated”. The expression “Devil a bit” is quite current in Ireland. But I could find no modern usage outside Ireland in a quick search on the online British newspaper archive.

  27. Owlmirror says

    Never heard “like fun”. Is that a euphemism for “like hell”?

    I don’t think so. After all, “fun” had the former/rare meaning of: ” To cheat or cajole (a person) (out of something); to trick, deceive. Also with of. Now rare and English regional..” (OED)

    Speaking of devil, and euphemism, “deuce” is sometimes an euphemism for “devil”, so “the deuce a” should also be a similar negator.

    Google Books has a couple of hits:

    “She was a steady, tight kind of a lass, and the deuce a step should she make towards her dull home”
    (“The Manœuvring Mother. 1858)

    “But for what it all means, the deuce a bit I can tell.”
    (The American Magazine – Volume 13. 1882)
    [The speaker of the above seems to be Irish, but scrolling up, I see him described as being a Hibernophile who has never left England ]

    I am also reminded of the possible negation in response of “the X you say” — it might be astonishment, but also disbelief or rejection of the truth of the claimed statement. It seems to me that replacing the euphemism with stronger terms for “X” demonstrates stronger levels of astonishment/disbelief. And “heck/hell” largely replaces “deuce/devil” in modern times:

    “The deuce/heck you say.”
    “The devil/hell you say.”

    And of course, an even stronger term for the maximum of disbelief: “The fuck you say!”

    Now I am wondering if the negatory phrase of “Like fuck!” arose from strengthening “Like fun!”, and “You’re fucking with me!” from “You’re funning with me!” Hm.

  28. John Cowan says

    It looks like the idiom began in Scotland, spread to England and then to Ireland, and then retreated. Note that various nouns follow devil a; only two of the OED’s 15 citations over 500 years use bit. Here they are:

    ▸ ?a1500 R. Henryson tr. Æsop Fables: Fox, Wolf, & Husbandman l. 2347 in Poems (1981) 88 The Deuill ane stirk taill thairfoir sall ȝe haif!

    1528 Rede me & be nott Wrothe sig. d viiv I trowe thou arte a syngynge man?.. The devil of the whit that I can.

    1542 N. Udall tr. Erasmus Apophthegmes (1877) 132 The Deuill of the one chare of good werke they doen.

    a1593 C. Marlowe Tragicall Hist. Faustus (1604) sig. C4v The diuel a peny they haue left me, but a bare pention.

    a1616 W. Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) ii. iii. 141 The diu’ll a Puritane that hee is, or any thing constantly.

    1694 P. A. Motteux tr. F. Rabelais 5th Bk. Wks. 241 The Devil a Bit he’ll see the better.

    1710 Brit. Apollo 22–25 Sept. The D——l was Sick, the D—— l a Monk would be, the D——l was Well, the D——l a Monk was he.

    1828 W. Scott Fair Maid of Perth iv, in Chron. Canongate 2nd Ser. III. 75 The deil a man dares stir you within his bounds.

    1832 Examiner 349/1 Devil another word would she speak.

    1871 Lippincott’s Monthly Mag. Aug. 143/2 ‘Devil a doubt had I you would,’ was the frank rejoinder. ‘Thrate ye well! Devil a doubt.’

    1903 ‘T. Collins’ Such is Life i. 40 Martin wanted his horse, so we hunted round and round, but devil a smell of horse or saddle or bridle could we find in the dark.

    1919 Kelso Chron. 22 Aug. 2/6 Nannie would remonstrate: ‘De’il a fear, Nan; there’s a Hand abune that guides the gully.’

    1954 I. Murdoch Under Net (1960) 123 As he puts it himself, devil a one would know that it was other than the spring breeze had touched their things.

    1986 C. McGlinchey et al. Last of Name (2007) iii. 24 It was in paper money and devil a bit of Michael would take it back till he got it in gold.

    2019 J. D. McClure in Lallans 95 123 Out o ‘siven Wullies in a class at Woodheid Scweel’ deil a yin cam hame [from the Great War].

    The 1871 quotation is printed in an American magazine (but may or may not have been written by an American), and the 1903 one is Australian.

    I’ve always been very fond of the 1710 citation, which is to be found in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

  29. Owlmirror says

    [More Google Books hits for “the deuce a” (with “bit”)]

    Though Fiddle-de-dee sings loud and clear,
    And his tones are sweet, yet his terms are dear!
    The ‘glove won’t fit!
    The deuce a bit.
    I shall give an engagement to Fal-de-ral-tit!”

    (The Ingoldsby legends; or, Mirth and marvels, by Thomas Ingoldsby. Vol. 2. 1856.)


    I don’t think the cooking such great things after all, the victuals were so disguised that the deuce a bit could I tell what I was eating ; give me plain beef or mutton in preference to these kickshaw dishes.

    (The admiral’s niece; or, A tale of Nova Scotia. 1858.)

  30. Owlmirror says

    Note that various nouns follow devil a; only two of the OED’s 15 citations over 500 years use bit.

    I see a slight difference in meaning/usage:

    1) “the devil/deuce a bit” NAME/PRONOUN VERB means NAME/PRONOUN “not” VERB (“the deuce a bit I could tell” ⇒ “I could not tell”; “The deuce a bit I shall give” ⇒ “I shall not give” ; “The Devil a Bit he’ll see” ⇒ “he’ll not see”; “devil a bit of Michael would take it” ⇒ “Michael would not take it” )

    2) “the devil/deuce a(n)” NOUN means “not a(n) NOUN” (“the devil a penny” ⇒ “not a penny”)

    More Google Books hits:

    “for it’s past eight now , and the deuce a mouthful have we put into our heads since twelve.”
    (The Warwick Woodlands. 1851.)

    “Why, the deuce a stitch of drapery had the beloved of Pluto to her back.”
    (Love laughs at Locksmiths: a comic opera. 1872)

  31. Bathrobe says

    Maybe “like fun” isn’t dated. Merriam-Webster says it’s dated and I wasn’t sure if I’m up with current usage, being old and all that.

    I think you can contradict yourself with a postposed “like fun”, just as you can with a postposed “not” (a much newer usage). I’m not sure about “like hell”.

  32. @PlasticPaddy, I did have a niggling doubt as to Ireland — should have known it would be current there. After all, you(se) still say “poxy”.

  33. PlasticPaddy says

    Divil a bit is used consciously when telling a story, and (probably) not by younger people. Poxy can just slip out when one is doing a difficult task and one’s tools are not cooperating.

  34. Maybe “like fun” isn’t dated. Merriam-Webster says it’s dated and I wasn’t sure if I’m up with current usage, being old and all that.

    I think you can contradict yourself with a postposed “like fun”, just as you can with a postposed “not” (a much newer usage). I’m not sure about “like hell”.

    I have never heard or seen “like fun” in the wild, only read it as an example of dated slang. That doesn’t prove anything, but it’s mighty suggestive. If it survives in actual use, it has to be in quite limited circles.

  35. Bathrobe says

    If it survives in actual use, it has to be in quite limited circles.

    Perhaps in Australia? But even there it might be dated. I’m a bit of a walking fossil.

    PS: It’s found in Catcher in the Rye:

    “Hey, how old are you, anyways?”
    “Me? Twenty-two.”
    “Like fun you are.”
    It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You’d think a prostitute and all would say “Like hell you are” or “Cut the crap” instead of “Like fun you are.”

  36. It’s found in Catcher in the Rye

    Yes, and I’d expect to find it in a book by a guy born in 1919. The last cite in the OED (entry updated September 2017) is:

    1936 J. Masefield Let. 8 Oct. in Lett. to F. Lamont (1979) 227 She [sc. the Queen Mary] is steady and she goes like fun; and though she goes like fun she doesn’t shake you all to bits.

    And it’s qualified as “Now rare.”

  37. I definitely heard and may have said “like fun” in Ireland in the 70s~80s, but possibly only with older relations. Is there another genteel FOO for “like FOO”? For “my FOO” we have a choice of ‘eye’ and ‘foot’; are those as dated as “like fun”? Maybe all gentility is inherently dated and now rare.

    My mother c.2006: “I’ll see if there’s any email…” [opens inbox] “…divvil an email. ????” The quaint-tech juxaposition struck me.

  38. David Marjanović says

    For “my FOO” we have a choice of ‘eye’ and ‘foot’; are those as dated as “like fun”?

    I’ve encountered both, but bowdlerization is definitely inherently dated and now rare.

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