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Thread: question tag

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    #1

    Question question tag

    My students asked me why the tag of I am .... is aren't I?
    I told them that that is the way English people say. Language is based on social agreement. Is it correct or are there any other explanation?

    Thanks a lot.
    Muflih N.

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    #2

    Re: question tag

    I don't know the reason that I am not" is contracted as "I'm not" but not "I amn't" -- but for whatever the reason, there is no "I amn't" in most dialects of English.

    Therefore, you can't do the inverse and say "Amn't I" for questions.

    Aren't I good enough for you?
    Aren't I the the best person for the job?
    I'm going, aren't I?

    If they think this is just too weird, they can say "am I not?" instead.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    #3

    Re: question tag

    Quote Originally Posted by Muflih N View Post
    My students asked me why the tag of I am .... is aren't I?
    I told them that that is the way English people say. Language is based on social agreement. Is it correct or are there any other explanation?

    Thanks a lot.
    Muflih N.
    It's the way they talk, you're right. There is the less grammatically-troublesome 'Am I not?'; indeed there was a time when it was OK to say 'Am not I?' - but not now.

    There are some dialects in which 'I am' is rendered as 'I be'; the negative, in these dialects, the negative is 'I bain't'. It seems to me that this could be the root of the widely used and useful 'ain't'.

    Anyway, whatever the case, here's an account of what I think might be going on. Prescriptivists often 'correct' users of 'I ain't'. Their unfortunate disciples know that /eɪnt/ is going to cause friction, so instead of <dipthong> + nt they go for <long_vowel> + nt : /a:nt/. When written, this becomes 'aren't'.

    But you're right: it's just what people say.

    b

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    #4

    Re: question tag

    After seeing Barb's post, I should add that there was a time when 'Am not I' was OK and did become 'amn't'. The /m/ was assimilated by the /n/. (In fact, maybe this is the root of 'ain't', and my mentioning of 'bain't' was not only fanciful but also unnecessary )

    b

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    #5

    Re: question tag

    Language is based on social agreement. I think the origins may lie with ease of pronunciation- amn't does occur in some dialects, but it isn't easy to say.

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    #6

    Re: question tag

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    Language is based on social agreement. I think the origins may lie with ease of pronunciation- amn't does occur in some dialects, but it isn't easy to say.
    It's also worth noting that, although the form looks strange, the pronunciation puts it alongside: can/can't, shall/shan't, am/aren't.

    In all three the final consonant of the affirmative form is dropped, as it is also in will/won't.

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    #7

    Re: question tag

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    I don't know the reason that I am not" is contracted as "I'm not" but not "I amn't"
    It is, though. The modern day form of "I amn't" is "I ain't." (From what I remember,amn't became an't, aan't, later aren't, ain't.)


    _______________________________
    If "ain't I?" is objected to, surely "aren't I?" is very much worse. [Lady Grove, "The Social Fetich," 1907]

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    #8

    Re: question tag

    And you can't argue with Lady Grove, who believes that those who are guilty of inviting you to "take" food or drink would be capable of taking your umbrella (umberella they would pronounce it), so deadly a sin it is. I'd never thought of labelling collocations I didn't like as sinful and only used by the criminal classes- I must remember that.

    What a fascinating book- thanks for alerting me to it. I'd never come across her name before.

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    #9

    Smile Re: question tag

    Thank you so much,

    your explanations are so helpful for English is a foreign language for me and my mother tongue is Indonesia ...

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    #10

    Re: question tag

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    After seeing Barb's post, I should add that there was a time when 'Am not I' was OK and did become 'amn't'. The /m/ was assimilated by the /n/. (In fact, maybe this is the root of 'ain't', and my mentioning of 'bain't' was not only fanciful but also unnecessary )

    b

    I believe you are spot on - "ain't" was actually the contraction for "am not". It later got over-generalized for the other persons (as still in many dialects), and then, by reaction, stigmatized until it disappeared from standard English.

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