April 12, 2011

Tag questions!

A "tag question," or "question tag" is the short question clause placed at the end of a sentence in English to indicate that the sentence is a question:
He's coming, isn't he?
We did a good job, did we not?
A little bit of research shows that grammarians don't regard the "huh?" in "We did a good job, huh?" as a complete tag question, but it's very similar.1

English tag questions get more baroque among foreign speakers of English.  Fijian(!) English speakers would insert the tag question "isn't it?" even into questions about a person doing something:
He's coming, isn't it?2
A friend of mine once remarked on his Chinese colleague using "isn't it" in the same way. I, for my part, encountered a Chinese-speaker in (of all places) a Reykjavik youth hostel who would insert "I think so" after questions AND affirmative statements.

And let's not forget the exotic "eh?" inserted after many sentences in Canada, looking for the hearer's affirmation (oddly, not marked as especially CANADIAN in Webster's Third).

1. There are "tag imperatives" that look similar, too, as in "Take out the trash, will you?"
2. Loreto Todd and Ian Hancock, International English Usage (1987), 204.

2 comments:

  1. And of course the German tag question "oder?" Sounds funny when a German speaker tries to use "oder" instead of "shouldn't I?" or some such tag. "I should get my assignment done, or?"

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