Antagonistic tag questions in BE

moodywop

Banned
Italian - Italy
One study of BE/AE differences states that tag questions are used more often in BE and sometimes differently from AE.

One type of tag question which is described as typically BE is the "antagonistic tag question"(spoken with a falling intonation), often in response to a stupid question:

- Will it take long, the tea?
- It has to boil, doesn't it?

- Why didn't you answer the phone?
- I was in the bath, wasn't I?

- Did you speak to him this morning?
- I wasn't here this morning, was I?

Since the study was published twenty years ago I was wondering whether this usage sounds unfamiliar to Americans and whether it is indeed absent in AE.
 
  • DaleC

    Senior Member
    Whatever the intonation, this communicative function of tags is definitely unusual in AE. "With falling intonation" -- virtually never occurs in AE.

    moodywop said:
    One type of tag question which is described as typically BE is the "antagonistic tag question"(spoken with a falling intonation), often in response to a stupid question:

    - Will it take long, the tea?
    - It has to boil, doesn't it?

    - Why didn't you answer the phone?
    - I was in the bath, wasn't I?

    - Did you speak to him this morning?
    - I wasn't here this morning, was I?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Antagonistic tag questions - that's a useful label:)
    These are still around in BE - with the falling intonation. They carry a sense of resentment and suggest that the speaker thinks the question is stupid even if it isn't.

    The antagonistic response matches the antagonistic tone of the question. If the question is asked in a normal voice, the same words with the tag question on a rising intonation would be neutral or positive.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Would you say that the AE antagonistic question "Do you have a problem with that" has a falling intonation?

    It seems to me to be in much the same class.
     

    Esca

    Senior Member
    ATX
    USA - English
    This actually sounds very normal to me. I don't know if we say it routinely, since I can't come up with any new examples where I would use it, but it sounds natural to my ears. I would usually use an intonation that rises only slightly, or in some circumstances, one that falls.
    The only thing that looks weird to me is, "Will it take long, the tea?" which is another sort of tag question, one that seems to be more uncommon in AE.
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    Brioche said:
    Would you say that the AE antagonistic question "Do you have a problem with that" has a falling intonation?

    It seems to me to be in much the same class.
    As a matter of terminology, this is not a tag question. A tag question by definition has as its underlying verb the same verb as in the original sentence.

    Also, the intonation rises, as for a normal question, on this one.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    For clarification, the bits I think are the antagonistic tag questions are highlighted in blue here:

    - Will it take long, the tea?
    - It has to boil, doesn't it?


    - Why didn't you answer the phone?
    - I was in the bath, wasn't I?

    - Did you speak to him this morning?
    - I wasn't here this morning, was I?
     

    nmuscatine

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    To me (native speaker of AE), "Will it take long, the tea?" sounds strange. All of the other sentences are things that I might say/hear often. A tag question seems automatically antagonistic when it is a question not meant to be answered, or whose answer is obvious.
     

    moodywop

    Banned
    Italian - Italy
    Esca said:
    The only thing that looks weird to me is, "Will it take long, the tea?" which is another sort of tag question, one that seems to be more uncommon in AE.

    Actually this usage is also mentioned as typically BE in the study I read. However in this case it's just a tag, not a question. Here's a good example:

    It's right tasty, is Websters (a TV ad for a beer)
     

    bhcesl

    Member
    USA/English
    To answer the original question, "It has to boil, doesn't it," can be antagonistic if 'doesn't it' has falling intonation. If 'doesn't it' is said with a rising intonation, it is a question in earnest.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Might tag questions sound antagonistic if the action they tag in the sentence is not neutral but somehow controversial?
    Do the tag question sound the same in formal and informal direct speech?

    Minister, you recently axed 1000s of jobs, didn't you?
    Minister, you recently saved orphanages from closing, didn't you?
     

    DonnyB

    Member Emeritus
    English UK Southern Standard English
    The first one at least is definitely provocative. It's challenging the minister to try and talk his way out of responsibility for the job losses, and in the context of something like a TV interview it would be seen as testing him to see how skilful a politician he was. :D
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you Donny.

    What do you think about formality? Are the following two equally formal?

    Minister, you recently saved orphanages from closing, didn't you?
    Minister, I believe you recently saved orphanages from closing, is this correct?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I'd say all your questions are equally formal neutral in register, Siares. (Though axing is certainly approaching informality.)
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I have to confess that none of these tag questions (if we agree that that's what they are) sound at all British to my ears. I mean, I'm sure they're used in BE, but they are frequently used in AmE, too.
     
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