Tag question - amn't I? - aren't I? - ain't I? - am I not?

Pedro y La Torre

Senior Member
English (Dublin, Ireland)
In an English exam, "amn't" is not appropriate (I'd argue that it should be, but that's another day's work).

Amn't is widely used in Ireland and Scotland but it is "regional" usage only. It should not be employed by learners, particularly in formal settings.
 
  • ShadyKay

    New Member
    English - USA
    In an English grammar textbook the following appears:
    Verbs am, are and is
    Negatives
    Full Form Short Form Questions
    I am not late I'm not late Aren't I late?

    My belief is that the question should be "Am I not late". Which is correct?.
    Rupert J. Walker


    I am looking at my OED Second Edition. Here is the entry for "aren't":

    "colloq. form of are not and am not (chiefly in standard interrogative use: aren't I? = 'am not I?'. Cf. AN'T"

    If it's good enough for the OED, it's good enough for me.
     

    ShadyKay

    New Member
    English - USA
    Well, it's good enough to be labeled colloquial by the OED. ;) Just because it appears in the definition doesn't bless it as standard English.

    'Colloquial' isn't a bad thing. It means conversational or informal. And please don't dismiss the "chiefly in standard interrogative use" bit. I will continue to use "aren't I" without guilt, and will defend its usage.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    No, it's not a bad thing at all. I might use it, too, from time to time, in a tag question. I'm only saying that that it's not standard English. Where standard English is expected or required it would not be advisable. In casual conversation I don't think there's a problem with it.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The problem is the verb "to be" which is very irregular* and does not use the periphrastic "do" to form the negative. If you are in an oral exam or writing**, and if you must say or write "I am late, <tag question.>" use the full version "I am late, am I not?". Otherwise "I am late, aren’t I?"


    * so irregular that one more irregularity isn't going to make much of a difference.
    **and/or in Ireland or Scotland
     

    NevenaT

    Banned
    Serbian/Croatian
    I was taught that 'aren't I' is the correct form.
    From what I've gathered here, 'am I not' is also acceptable, though it is unusal to pronounce the 'mn' cluster in the contraction.

    No one addressed this question:
    'I am late, aren't I?'
    'I'm not late, are I/am I/aren't I?' - which one is correct here?
     

    Luis.Olias

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Spain
    [This question and the following posts have been added to a lengthy but informative previous thread covering this topic. DonnyB - moderator]
    Hello, I am an English student.

    I was watching a TV show and a person in it said: "I am allowed to smoke, aren't I?"

    So, I was expecting: "Am I not?"

    Are both correct?

    Thanks in advance!
     
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    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Aren't I?" is the usual tag question. "Am I not?" sounds very formal, and I don't recall ever having heard it (tag questions are not formal). As a main question, both are used, but "Aren't I" is almost certainly more common.
     

    chasfh

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Yes, both are correct.

    There is no contraction for "am I not", so English settled on "aren't" instead.

    "Ain't" has long been considered incorrect to use, but I ain't gonna hold it against you if you do. 😉
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Since that’s a request for confirmation of what you assume to be the case, it would almost certainly be stressed: "I am allowed to smoke here, aren’t I?"
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    There is (are). The one my Scottish father used - "amn't I?", and the uneducated "ain't I?"
    Interesting that you class your dad’s non-standard use as a regional variation and the other non-standard one as “uneducated”.

    I’m not a fan of “uneducated” as a label for language variations. People use the language of their own community.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't classify my father's use as regional, but he was the only person I heard use it. Why do you classify it as "non-standard"? It was standard for him. His Scottish origin may or may not be relevant. You might not like "uneducated", but I've only heard "ain't I?" used by the uneducated or by people mimicking them.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I also have an inkling that the uncontracted version is also more common in Scottish English. I'm not saying it's very common, only that it doesn't draw attention to itself. I can hear in my head:

    He's coming, is he not?
    I am needed, am I not?
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I don't classify my father's use as regional, but he was the only person I heard use it. Why do you classify it as "non-standard"? It was standard for him. His Scottish origin may or may not be relevant. You might not like "uneducated", but I've only heard "ain't I?" used by the uneducated or by people mimicking them.
    Why do you classify aint as uneducated?

    I say non-standard because that’s a well established linguistic shorthand for any type of variation, regional or social, which could then be classified in a number of ways.
    I reject “uneducated” as a classification because it stigmatises a variety that’s no less valid than any other variant. I agree these variations are all “standard” for their users. I just disagree with the stigma inherent in choosing to call some of them uneducated and some of them Scottish.
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Why do you classify aint as uneducated?
    I don't. I was referring specifically to "ain't I?" One has only to read novels written in the 18th and 19th centuries to know that the drawling upper class used "ain't" as a contraction for "isn't". Is there a stigma in suggesting that something might be Scottish?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    “Amn’t I” is new to me. I picked up a few great Scottishisms from my Edinburghian mother-in-law in the dim and distant past, but never this one. Is it regional even in Scotland, I wonder?
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The correct form is "am I not." The verb needs to agree with the subject, so "aren't I" is certainly incorrect. Because "amn't I" sounds awkward, the best choice is "am I not," which is less awkward. It's basically the best of three evils.

    I'm late, aren't I? :tick::tick:
    I thought I was late. Aren't I late after all? :tick:

    I thought everyone spoke like that nowadays. Evil? Incorrect? I don't think anyone I know would actually ask "Am I not?"
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Amn't I?" isn't any more awkward to say than "aren't I?" and if the test for acceptability and lack of evil is awkwardness, then surely we should all be saying "ain't I?"

    I don't think anyone I know would actually ask "Am I not?"
    As we've only met virtually, I don't think I can say you know me, but if we meet I'll make a point of asking it. I would need to be in a bit of a dudgeon, though.
     

    DonnyB

    Moderator Emeritus
    English UK Southern Standard English
    “Amn’t I” is new to me. I picked up a few great Scottishisms from my Edinburghian mother-in-law in the dim and distant past, but never this one. Is it regional even in Scotland, I wonder?
    It's a new one on me, too.

    According to Lexico (Oxford Dictionaries) the contraction itself, (although not necessarily the tag question) is Irish. I checked, just to see how on earth you would pronounce it: I'm now certain I've never heard anyone say it. :)
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I remember an old English teacher telling us that it should strictly be “amn’t I”, but more because it was an interesting or curious aside than any insistence that he or we should say it.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    [...]
    As we've only met virtually, I don't think I can say you know me, but if we meet I'll make a point of asking it. I would need to be in a bit of a dudgeon, though.
    I say it occasionally too, Andy, when I wish to sound a little formal.

    In the British Corpus there are eight examples of its being used as a tag question, out of 54 examples generally.

    Here are examples of each:

    Mr. Wilson: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Should you not suspend the sitting until there is someone on the Tory Benches who is capable of walking over and picking up the notes to the Minister?
    Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Am I not capable? Hansard

    " Now then, put the toe of your wellington against t' other end and we' ave' em, " he said quietly. After that the injection of the litter was a matter of a few minutes. Mr Stokill didn't say, " Well, I'm teaching you a thing or two today, am I not? " There was no hint of triumph Or self-congratulation in the calm, old eyes. Vets might fly. James Herriot, London: Pan Books Ltd, 1977

    I don't regard it as an unusual way of talking at all, and James Herriot is not an author whose characters stand on ceremony, though coming mostly from Yorkshire they may be fond of orotund ways of expressing themselves.
     
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    Phil512

    Senior Member
    Français - Belgique
    I am amazed by this very long thread. The solution is not only very common as said by a few contributors, but also crystal clear as indicated in the Cambridge Dictionary.
    As a question tag, referring to the first person singular, the grammatical solution in 2022 is "aren’t I? ----> "I am late, aren’t I"
    It is very weird, looks ungrammatical but so it is (amn’t I = too difficult to pronounce).
    If it’s not a question tag, "am I not" is also grammatical. But "aren’t I" works also.
    If you’re an American, and you’re using very popular English, "ain’t I" Is also a solution, although not considered as proper English in the UK.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I am amazed by this very long thread.
    I wonder why you wanted to make it longer. If you read the thread, you will discover that aren't I, amn't I, am I not and ain't I have all been and still are used as tag questions. I also wonder what the problem is that needs a solution. Although I do not say amn't I, it is not difficult to pronounce - certainly my father seemed to have no problem with it. There is also this comment:
    Amn't is widely used in Ireland and Scotland but it is "regional" usage only. It should not be employed by learners, particularly in formal settings.
    The OED notes the use of amn't I as a regional variant in Scotland, Ireland, the West Midlands and Northern England continuing into the 20th century and beyond, and has examples of recent use as a tag question:
    1990 R. Doyle Snapper (1993) 151 I'm gettin' very big, amn't I?
    2003 C. Forde Fat Boy Swim iii. 25 I'm good, amn't I?
    As for am I not, the post immediately (and almost 2 years) before yours gives examples of its use as a tag question.
     

    Phil512

    Senior Member
    Français - Belgique
    To Andygc:

    1. Because I have the right to try to clarify;
    2. Because this very long thread goes in multiple directions instead of concentrating to a useful one;
    3. Because a 4 page long thread doesn’t lead beginners anywhere - it only add doubts and alternatives, the credibility of which (= of some of them) is often far from being interesting or conclusive;
    4. Because, as soon as someone comes with an interesting solution (yes, there needs to be a valid solution, or valid solutions) someone else relaunches a debate about amn’t, regional usage etc..
    5. Because the most certain and general option is the weird but valid aren’t I;
    6. Because regional usage might be interesting for advanced learners but definitely not for beginners, who rely on us to come to a conclusive piece of information about an expression they can use everywhere.
    7. Because we are in 2022, as I underlined in my previous contribution. Not when our fathers where alive and kicking.

    Those are my final words about all this.
     
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    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    amn’t I = too difficult to pronounce
    This might well be the case for you - I see your native language is French. It isn't the case for native speakers of English. Amn't I is alive and well in 2022.
    regional usage might be interesting for advanced learners but definitely not for beginners
    All sorts of members participate in this forum, including people with very advanced knowledge of English, and plenty of people are interested in regional usages, as this thread demonstrates.
     

    anthox

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    The fact that anyone, anywhere, uses "Amn't I?" is news to me. I like it, because it should logically be the standard expression, but it isn't. I don't find it hard to pronounce at all, though.
     

    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    I like it, because it should logically be the standard expression, but it isn't.
    :D I'm surprised Irish people haven't already introduced this in the US since so many of us are over there.
     

    anthox

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    :D I'm surprised Irish people haven't already introduced this in the US since so many of us are over there.
    Indeed, I too am one of you, but my ancestors came in the first quarter of the last century. I can't say I've ever heard my grandmother - raised by immigrants - use "amn't I," but alas, she's no longer around to ask.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Because regional usage might be interesting for advanced learners but definitely not for beginners,
    This forum does not exist for beginners. It exists for people who have questions about meaning and usage. Those people include beginners. There is already advice for beginners
    Because we are in 2022
    So are the various usages discussed here.
    Because I have the right to try to clarify
    You haven't clarified anything.
     

    hanshotter

    Senior Member
    American English
    I have to disagree with alabamiano. I have never heard nor read "I'm not late, aren't I?" No, no. It should be "I'm not late, am I?"
    I am not late.
    Am I not late?
    Aren't I late? is also correct, but I would use "Am I late? Yes, you are".
    tana french irish writer uases the form "I amn't in one of her novels. it apparently survives in Dublin. James McWhorter, an American linquist references the form in one his books as an example of antiquated--i.e. Elizabethan usage lingers on in some regions. I have never seen nor heard it among Americans, not even my Irish American relatives

    Indeed, I too am one of you, but my ancestors came in the first quarter of the last century. I can't say I've ever heard my grandmother - raised by immigrants - use "amn't I," but alas, she's no longer around to ask.

    ditto anthox...my irish cousins never use it in my presence...nor did my dublin born and raised irish teacher in New York ever say it near me, I will poll my Dublin cousins, an the others from from Clare and Mayo. Go raibh maith agat
     

    hanshotter

    Senior Member
    American English
    ditto anthox...my irish cousins never use it in my presence...nor did my dublin born and raised irish teacher in New York ever say it near me, I will poll my Dublin cousins, an the others from from Clare and Mayo. Go raibh maith agat

    i am amazed this discussion has been going on since 2004, my cousin Ireland assured me last I aimn't is used today in Erin's Isle.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, (Burchfield) at the entry for “be 4 Paradigmatic forms.” has a possible explanation for "Aren't I?"
    It is possible (as a correspondent has pointed out to me) that, when followed by n't, am behaves exactly like can and shall, losing its final consonant and (in standard English) lengthening its vowel. The expected spelling would be an't, but in those forms of English which lose pre-consonantal r, the short form of am not merges with that of are not in both speech and spelling.

    < ---- >

    1 < ---- > Properly speaking, the last element in a tag-question of the type 'I am here, am I not?', if reduced, should be amn't I, as it is in many modes of speech in Scotland and Ireland. But standard English has opted instead for the puzzling aren't I, a stiffnecked Sassenach (= Saxon/English) use if ever there was one from the point of view of the Scots.

    < Edited to comply with 4-sentence limit on quotation (Rule 4). Cagey, moderator >
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Very interesting explanation. So aren't could be an English respelling of an't. We could have gone for carn't instead of can't but didn't.

    Those who use amn't pronounce it /ˈam(ə)nt/, I assume, but perhaps some might say /ant/?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I can't help but notice that ain't rhymes with cain't (dialect for can't) and hain't (dialect for haven't). I've never heard "shain't", but it does seem related to dropping a consonant sound before -n't.
     
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