isn't it [question tag]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by allifathima, Apr 6, 2011.

  1. allifathima Banned

    I have constructed a question and answer as below.
    Q: He went to school. isn't it?
    A: Yes. He went.
    Will it satisfy the tag-question and answer?
  2. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    No. You should look at what a tag question is and have another try. First hint: There is no "it" or "is" in the sentence so the tag question is not "isn't it?".
  3. Languagethinkerlover Senior Member

    English-British and U.S.
    I've heard 'isn't it' used before to confirm that the question being asked is correct so if this is the reason you wrote 'isn't it' instead of, "He went to school, didn't he?" then it's fine.

    As for the answer, I would have just responded, "Yeah" or "Yeah, he's already gone" or "Yeah, you missed him."

    As for "He went"...Usually something comes after 'went.' I would not leave 'went' like that. It doesn't sound right.

    Just my humble opinion.
  4. Askalon Senior Member

    English (US)
    I think "He went" sounds fine, personally.

    I'm not sure I understand what Languagethinker is describing regarding a situation in which "isn't it" would be an okay tag question for that sentence. I can't think of how that sentence would sound okay with "isn't it," but in any case, it definitely doesn't work for the situation or usage you're trying to do. You have to use "didn't he." The verb in the sentence isn't "to be," so you can't use "to be" (i.e. "isn't") in the tag question either. And like Myridon said, there's no "it" in the sentence either, so if you use "it" in the tag question, what would it be referring to? "Didn't" refers to the verb "go," and "he" obviously refers to "he."
  5. Languagethinkerlover Senior Member

    English-British and U.S.
    I've tried explaining why 'isn't it' could be fine. I've heard some speakers say 'isn't it' to confirm that what they are asking is right.

    The 'it' in 'isn't it' does not really refer to an 'it.' "Isn't it" is almost like saying, "Right?"

    For example, "You're from Essex, isn't it?" "I can tell by your accent."

    It would be correct to say, "You're from Essex, aren't you?" But again, 'isn't it' is like saying, "Right?" It might not be proper English but I've heard its usage.
  6. Askalon Senior Member

    English (US)
    I've never heard that sort of usage before. Are you describing British English? Maybe it doesn't exist so much in American English. "You're from Essex, isn't it?" sounds very ungrammatical to me, colloquial or not.
  7. mplsray Senior Member

    I myself have not hear "isn't it?" used as a tag question when the pronoun "it" does not refer back to a noun--or another "it"--in the sentence being tagged, but then my experience is limited to hearing British speakers in film, TV, and radio, so I may have missed such a usage. (I did visit London in 1974, but don't remember having heard such a usage.)

    I have, however--again, in film, TV, and radio--heard "innit?" used as a nonstandard British tag question in that fashion.

    Assuming that some British speakers do use "isn't it?" in this way (as a universal, invariant tag question), then if your interest is in any form of tag question, your question fulfills that condition--although it should be punctuated with a comma: "He went to school, isn't it?"

    However, if your concern is about tag questions in standard English only, then you should not use "isn't it?" in your example.
  8. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The correct question tag here is 'didn't he?' Apart from that the exercise is fine, Allifathima, though the answer is rather laconic. I think most people would say 'Yes, he did'.
  9. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I'd consider this use to not be a true "tag question" but rather, you know, like, one of those, like, unnecessary, like, interjected, you know, like, phrases, you know? which only occur in certain dialects.
  10. Anne58 Senior Member

    "Isn't it" can be used but the thing you are asking about has to fit with the phrase "isn't it"

    For example:

    That is your dog, isn't it?
    That's your book, isn't it?

    When using people:
    You're from America, aren't you
    That handsome guy is your brother, isn't he?

    We don't normally refer to people as "it" :)
  11. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    Some languages other than English seem to use their equivalents of "isn't it" as an all-purpose question, perhaps as a reduced form of "Is it not true?" But English just doesn't do that except perhaps in some dialects limited to small areas or specific social classes. The result is that the use of "isn't it" as proposed in the original post sounds "foreign," something that would be said by someone who knows some English but is not fluent in it.

    Other languages might also repeat a previous veerb, without other qualifictions, as an answer to the original question, and in those that inflect their verbs for person and number, it would not even be necessary to use a pronoun. English, however, has the rather all-purpose "do" to refer to the action of any verb, and to turn statements into questions. This can be used in both a "tag question" and the response. "Did" can refer to one or more verbs that have just been used.

    He <almost any verb(s) or verb phrase>, didn't he?
    Yes, he did.

    He made quite a fuss, didn't he? Yes, he did.
    He went to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude, didn't he? Yes, he did.
    Sheworked overtime, cooked dinner, did the dishes, and went to a PTA meeting, all in one frantic day, didn't she? Yes, she did.
    They invented, developed, and successfully marketed a remarkably simple and elegant solution to a problem that had baffled scientists and engineers for generations, didn't they? Yes, they did.
  12. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    There are some verbs and auxiliaries and modals which have their own tag questions:

    To have - I've got to go, haven't I?
    To be - we are going, aren't we?
    will - he will go, won't he? (i.e. will he not?)
    can - he can go, can't he? (i.e. can he not?)
    must - he must go, mustn't he?
    should - he should go, shouldn't he?

    There may be others, but none spring to mind.
  13. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    It is used in UK-EN spoken English, at least.. And it is understood.. Grammar, what thaaaa??????


    Mind you if the BBC uses it... 'Nice day today, isn't it?'
    ... I might use it again myself..... :D
  14. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    If you use isn't it as the tag for all questions, this would be what linguists call an invariant tag. I think isn't it is very well established in Indian English (and can be found in some other varieties like Malaysian English and Singaporean English). The key thing you have to note is that English speakers from elsewhere often find this unacceptable, and other people have given the rules for the question tag in Standard English above.

    There are other invariant tags too:

    • They do a lot of work, is it? (Welsh English)
    • She’s gone to town, is it? (South African English)
    • We had fun, innit? (Cockney)
    You might also encounter:

    • He went to school, no?
    All this is of course interesting to know. In careful contexts, particularly for international communication, it might be best to stick to the Standard version.
  15. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    "(It is a) nice day today, isn't it?" is the "standard" form, isn't it?
  16. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I agree. "Nice day today, isn't it?" sounds fine to me. It's the "he went" combined with "isn't it?"

    It must be a colloquial BE/AE difference. I can't imagine saying or hearing "He went to school, isn't it?" in American English. The only tag question that would sound natural to me would be "didn't he?", but I don't think we use tag questions as much as our BE counterparts anyway.
  17. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I disagree with George, here: I don't think it is used in standard British English. (I don't even think it's used in non-standard British English - though "innit" is.)

    That said, I agree with Nat (post 14): I have certainly heard invariant question tags from speakers of - standard - Indian and South African English.
  18. Languagethinkerlover Senior Member

    English-British and U.S.

    I do hear its use more among the British. I'm sorry it doesn't sound grammatical to you but it's said nonetheless.

    'Innit' is a shorter version of 'isn't it' and I have also heard that.

    I think it's important to know whether allifathima is using 'isn't it' to mean 'Right?' (see my first response if confused) or if it's a case of incorrect grammar.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2011
  19. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Yeah innit / isn't it is used in colloquial London dialect. It's an invariant tag as natkretep pointed out. It's not part of the standard language.
    It's usage is spreading more north I believe, it's often parodied on TV (Lauren Cooper ;p).
  20. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    Yes, the tag questions for auxiliaries do repeat the auxiliary. In the case of "have," this is only when it is being used as an auxiliary; if it's being used for possession or obligation, then the tag question uses "do":

    He had gone, hadn't he?
    He has to go, doesn't he?
    They have a yacht, don't they?
  21. zopqwe Senior Member

    Spanish (Arg)
    Isn't it possible too that isn't it be just a shortened version of isn't it so? That way the sentence would stand thus: He went to school, isn't it so? (Meaning: he went to school, right?; is that correct?; or am I wrong?) It does sound kind of funny, but at least it makes some sense (unlike the bare isn't it).
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2011
  22. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    In BE we can often use either when have isn't an auxiliary:

    They have a yacht, don't they?:tick: is OK, but people also say They have a yacht, haven't they?:tick:

    Funnily enough when there is elision, the don't they? form sounds very odd to me. I'd say You've a bottle of whiskey at home, haven't you? and not You've a bottle of whiskey at home, don't you?
  23. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think in the languages that use the universal tag that your suggestion applies (French comes to mind but not to the post); however, it does not work in English. "Isn't it so?" can be used unshortened but the more common version of it is "Statement XYZ, isn't that so?"
  24. mplsray Senior Member

    Innit? may be a shortened form of isn't it? but there is an alternative possibility. From page 106 of Pragmatic Markers and Sociolinguistic Variation: A Relevance-Theoretic Approach to the Language of Adolescents by Gisle Andersen, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2001:

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