Asking for the end of a line/queue

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Anello

Member
Russian
Hi!

I've always wondered what English speakers say in the following context:

Suppose, you come to a hospital, shop, etc and see a queue. You need to join the queue. What do you ask people in the queue? Who's the last? Sorry, if the sentence sounds stupid or makes no sense :confused:
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Are you asking how you join a queue? You just join it at the end (it's usually pretty obvious which is the front and which is the end of a queue, but if you make a mistake, you'll be informed by the queue people). If it's not obvious, you can ask: Is this the end of the queue? Is this where the queue starts?

    You don't need to ask anyone's permission, but if you're not sure if this is the right queue, you can ask,
    Is this the queue for the free ice cream?

    Is this the queue for the painful flu injections?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Havfruen and Copyright give good suggestions. Sometimes the beginning of the queue is obvious but there may be odd people who look as if they might be in the queue, but then again they might just be standing around waiting for someone. In such a situation, I would say, 'Are you in the queue?'
     

    Anello

    Member
    Russian
    It's so different here in Russia.It's not always obvious who the last person in the queue is. Sometimes people do not stand in a perfect line. In a hospital corridor, for example, some people may be standing others may be sitting. And the order they stand or sit in may be different from the real order. That's why we always ask the question I often use in Russian and I'm trying to formulate in English on this forum.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ah, thank you. In addition to other suggestions:
    Where is the end of the queue?
    Is this the end of the queue?
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I remember asking the same question a while ago and the answer I got from an Englishman was "Who's last, please?"
    Yes, that would work too. If there are people waiting to be served (say, someone at a post office counter), the server might also say, 'Who's first, please?'
     

    Fabulist

    Banned
    American English
    If people are just scattered around but waiting for service on a "first-come, first-served" basis, then there really isn't a queue (except to operations researchers). In the U.S., some places give out numbers upon arrival, or have machines that say "Take a number." People are served in numerical order and there might even be a display that shows the number currently being served. There is a virtual queue but not a physical one. This system is usually obvious and you just have to grab the next number.

    If people are not arranged in order of arrival and there is no numbering system in place, then it is necessary to remember who was ahead of you and who arrived later. This used to be the practice in U.S. barber shops and still is in the ones that I patronize. You have to either memorize who was there when you entered, or carefully keep track of who arrived after you did.

    If there is a line in the U.S., you can ask the questions already suggested or "Are you the last one in line?" or "Does the line end here?" Asking about a "queue" has a good chance of puzzling Americans.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    A BE perspective. "Is this the back of the queue?"

    To somebody you think might be in the queue "Are you in the queue?"

    I've never heard "Who's last please?"
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I've never heard "Who's last please?"
    But that's exactly what I was told when I asked this question. I've been trying hard to remember who told me that, but I can't.
    I do hope to hear from some other British people here. I couldn't have made up that phrase myself. :)

    Thank you.
     
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    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If you're just joining the line and you ask "Who's last?", the logical answer would always be "You are." ;)
     

    MrsWigs

    Member
    English
    Totally agree with Andygc - in BE we would say "are you in the queue" to the last person. Sometimes it's not clear who is or isn't at the end as some people loiter!

    If you ask " are you in the queue" common replies might be "yes I am", or "no, sorry".

    Hope this helps.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Here is the thread I saw "Who is last?" in: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=500
    Said by an American by the way.
    Ah - but the thread you quote is about the translation of a Spanish phrase used when there are a number of people standing in a shop and you are not sure who is the last person waiting to be served. In other words, it's used where there's no orderly queue or line.

    Where there is a queue, there's no need to ask a similar question:).
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I agree, but please look at post #5. I know very well what Anello is talking about. Orderly queues are pretty rare, at least in Russia. You almost always have to ask this question, wherever you go.:)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Ah again!:D

    Anello's post 1 asks about what we say when there is a queue.

    If you're wanting to ask what we say when there isn't a queue, then I honestly don't think the situation arises these days in the UK. There's either a queue or you know you're going to be called forward (to see a doctor for example) according to a set schedule.

    But thinking back to the long-ago days when you could turn up at a doctor's surgery without an appointment and just sit and wait your turn - then I think "who's last?" would probably be an appropriate question.

    In practice, though, I think we used to do what Fabulist suggests in post 9 and simply memorise who was there when we arrived/who came in after us:).
     
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    Anello

    Member
    Russian
    Thank you all for this hot discussion, which is an obvious sign of our different mentalities. ;-) Xander2024, I do appreciate your help in this thread. "Who's last" is exactly what I wanted.
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Expect Myridon and me to say, "You are" when asked. :) This is the sort of question that's sure to get you some smart remarks.
    I can't agree with you or Myridon here. Actually the person asking hasn't joined the line yet so how can he/she be the last? Besides, this kind of reply would sure be considered an insult or defiance. At least in Russia.;)

    Thank you.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I can't agree with you or Myridon here. Actually the person asking hasn't joined the line yet so how can he/she be the last? Besides, this kind of reply would sure be considered an insult or defiance. At least in Russia.;)
    You wouldn't ask the question if you didn't want to join the queue. And it would often be said with a big smile, like this -> :D After all, many people in a line will be sharing some compassion for the situation you're all in.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I can't agree with you or Myridon here. Actually the person asking hasn't joined the line yet so how can he/she be the last? Besides, this kind of reply would sure be considered an insult or defiance. At least in Russia.;)

    Thank you.
    Although I would not expect to hear "who's last?" said here, if it was I would expect the answer to be exactly as Myridon and Copyright suggest - although not necessarily with a big smile - it might depend on how long the people have been waiting.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    No. The person hasn't joined the line so he doesn't belong to it hence can't be last.
    I'll just say this one more time so we don't flog this to death -- or maybe that would be good, too: the person wants to join the line, so he's asking, "Who's last?" The respondent who is in the existing line and is last might pass on that honor by saying, "You are." It has little to do with actuality and everything to do with humor, which exists in many queue- and line-forming countries.

    Frankly, I would never ask, "Who's last?" Not only isn't that the way I phrase things, but I don't want to hear that it's me.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I would never think of asking "Who's last?" in this situation, as it implies that the speaker's interest is in that person, when in fact what one needs to know is: where is the end of the queue? And that is what I would (and do) ask: I look to see what appears to be the end of queue and ask a person there "Is this the end of the queue?".
     
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    Anello

    Member
    Russian
    I would never think of asking "Who's last?" in this situation, as it implies that the speaker's interest is in that person, when in fact what one needs to know is: where is the end of the queue? And that is what I would (and do) ask: I look to see what appears to be the end of queue and ask a person there "Is this the end of the queue?".
    The question is who you will ask if you have no idea where the end of the queue is. Are you going to ask everyone "is this the end of the queue?" ... that's exactly what will make people smile.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    The question is who you will ask if you have no idea where the end of the queue is. Are you going to ask everyone "is this the end of the queue?" ... that's exactly what will make people smile.
    Whether or not they are the end of the queue/line, a reasonably helpful person will answer by telling you where the end of the line is, if they know, or where they think it may be, if they don't. Most people aren't trying to set grammatical traps for other people, at least where I live.

    At the place where I buy coffee, the end of the line of people placing orders often extends to the area in which people stand around waiting to pick up their drinks. We don't always know whether a person is in line or waiting for their drink. We tend to ask the question Mole suggests, except that we say "line" because we speak American English:
    Is this the end of the line?
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Just one last(?) thing about queues.

    FIFO (First in Last out) queues conventionally have heads and tails in various theories about their properties. The tail of the queue is where you join and the head is where you leave the queue to be serviced.

    It is a shame that we do not use this terminology and all follow the FIFO principle for normal things. Priority queues for emergencies solves one of the problems of FIFO queues....

    GF..

    Want to know more? And then there are the parallel queues to pay for the weekly supermarketgoodies.... :) And then there is .......
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    The question is who you will ask if you have no idea where the end of the queue is. Are you going to ask everyone "is this the end of the queue?" ... that's exactly what will make people smile.
    In my experience a queue, one that can still be called a queue, does not get disorderly to the extent that it is not possible to identify possible ends. There are generally very few, and the most likely is usually fairly obvious. It is only a matter of being sure. I wouldn't say "Is this the end of a queue?" when confronted with an unruly mob of waiting people. I'm basing what I have said on actual experience, and in Britain that is not difficult to come by.
     

    Xander2024

    Senior Member
    Russian
    True, I wasn't going to write any more in this thread but I think a short comment won't hurt. The reason we Russians tend to stick to "Who's last?" is that this is the way we ask this question here. Yes, we are quite often confronted with a mob of waiting people, not an orderly queue/line. And there's one more question that often precedes the "Who's last?" when you see there are too many people: - "Are all of you in this queue(line)? And if you hear "yes", you are likely to change your mind and come back some other time. That's our reality.

    Thanks a lot, everyone, for your patience and time.:)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    For reasons that I cannot fathom we rarely use "queue" in the USA (possibly because it has too many vowels and not enough consonants :)). I suspect that there are many Americans who would not understand the word if spoken and would not know how to pronounce it if written.

    We use "line".

    I would walk up to the apparent end of the line and ask, "Are you in line?"

    To ask the purpose of the line I would say, "Is this the line to buy tickets or is this the ticket holders' line?"
     

    PawelS

    Member
    USA
    Polish
    This most recent question has been added to a previous thread.
    Cagey, moderator

    Dear All,

    I usually ask:
    Excuse me, are you standing in line here?
    I am Polish and this is how we ask in our language. However, a friend told me the word "here" does not sound natural in this question.

    I wonder if others agree.

    I think of such situations like when you are in a crowded airport hallway and it is hard to figure out where the line to Starbucks starts. Or when you start forming a line to board the plane at the gate.

    Thank you in advance.
     
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    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    "Is this the line for Starbucks" would be fine – not "to," although I can see why you asked. :)

    Now that a moderator has kindly moved your post to the thread I couldn't find, you'll want to read from the first post. ;)
     
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