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inversion and tag question

Discussion in 'English Only' started by boggiee, Nov 7, 2013.

  1. boggiee Senior Member

    Turkey
    Turkish
    Hi,

    - There were two guys behind me staring at me, weren't there?

    The inversion of the sentence is:

    - Behind me were two guys staring at me, weren't there, weren't they?

    I am confused about which I must put in the section of 'tag', aren't there / aren't they?

    Thanks.
     
  2. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    Two guys behind me were staring at me, weren't they?
     
  3. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    - Behind me were two guys staring at me, weren't there, weren't they?

    If you want to keep the inversion, "there" disappears, so "weren't there?" would be wrong. I wouldn't use "weren't they" either, because the two guys are no longer so clearly the subject of the verb in your sentence. I guess RM agrees with me, and that's why he's avoided the inverted sentence altogether.

    After the inversion I wouldn't use a tag, unless something like "isn't that so?" or "right?".
     
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    The use of the subject 'there' and the use of a location phrase before the subject are different things. We can always just add a location phrase, with no other change in word order:

    Two cows are eating grass. Two cows are eating grass, aren't they?
    Behind me two cows are eating grass. Behind me two cows are eating grass, aren't they?

    But under certain circumstances - if it introduces a new thing - a locative phrase can also cause subject/verb inversion:

    :thumbsup:Behind me are two cows eating grass. ~ :thumbsdown: Behind me are two cows eating grass, aren't they?

    'There' can be subject. This also introduces something, but now 'there' is the subject, not the other thing, so the tag uses 'there':

    There are two cows eating grass behind me. There are two cows eating grass behind me, aren't there?

    Like any other sentence, a sentence with 'there' as subject can have a locative phrase in front of it:

    Behind me there are two cows eating grass. Behind me there are two cows eating grass, aren't there?

    So you can say every kind of combination, with one exception, and the tag uses the subject. The exception is the one I marked :thumbsdown: above. I think the reason this sounds wrong is that the inverted structure of location + verb + subject is used for introducing a new thing, but the tag question is for checking about something you already know about. Using 'there' instead gets around this.
     

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