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  1. #1
    emka's Avatar
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    Default Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    I have a question about a rather rarely used (it seems) variant of tag questions:

    Breast is best. Or is it?

    First, I was confused when I encountered such double-positive tags and didnít understand them because this construction had never been covered in my school English lessons. At some point I figured out that it must be a rhetorical question to express doubt about the preceding statement.

    Is it only used with the verb to be? Or can it also be used with other auxiliaries, as per the following sentences I have made up?

    She has reached the zenith of her career. Or has she?
    He went to collect his bags at the reception desk. Or did he?
    He felt he should apologise. Or should he?

  2. #2
    Raymott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Quote Originally Posted by emka View Post
    I have a question about a rather rarely used (it seems) variant of tag questions:

    Breast is best. Or is it?

    First, I was confused when I encountered such double-positive tags and didnít understand them because this construction had never been covered in my school English lessons. At some point I figured out that it must be a rhetorical question to express doubt about the preceding statement.

    Is it only used with the verb to be? Or can it also be used with other auxiliaries, as per the following sentences I have made up?

    She has reached the zenith of her career. Or has she?
    He went to collect his bags at the reception desk. Or did he?
    He felt he should apologise. Or should he?
    This isn't a variant of a tag question. It is common in magazine articles. First comes some statement that is often taken for granted. Then a short sentence querying the statement.
    It indicates that the following text is going to argue that the statement is not necessarily true.

    You don't use this form in a conversation. I think you would most likely have got this from a heading or headline.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Note that a double negative is less usual. You will normally see:

    She hasn't yet reached the zenith of her career. Or has she?
    He didn't go to collect his bags at the reception desk. Or did he?
    He shouldn't apologise. Or should he?

  4. #4
    emka's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    This isn't a variant of a tag question. It is common in magazine articles. First comes some statement that is often taken for granted. Then a short sentence querying the statement.
    It indicates that the following text is going to argue that the statement is not necessarily true.

    You don't use this form in a conversation. I think you would most likely have got this from a heading or headline.
    Thanks for explaining.
    Yes, exactly, I came across this type of question in magazine articles and headlines. This explains why I have never heard it being used in any conversation, no matter how high-brow the topic or elaborate the speech. So if it's only used in written English and I were to express doubt or argue orally, what could I say instead? Something like: Really? But what about xyz? Did you know that abcde...?

  5. #5
    emka's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Note that a double negative is less usual. You will normally see:

    She hasn't yet reached the zenith of her career. Or has she?
    He didn't go to collect his bags at the reception desk. Or did he?
    He shouldn't apologise. Or should he?
    Note taken, thanks.

    As this follows the mechanics I know (negative, followed by positive), I wouldn't have paid much attention to such constructions because they look familiar.
    But just to clarify:
    This would also be used in written English only, wouldn't it?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Quote Originally Posted by emka View Post
    Note taken, thanks.

    As this follows the mechanics I know (negative, followed by positive), I wouldn't have paid much attention to such constructions because they look familiar.
    But just to clarify:
    This would also be used in written English only, wouldn't it?
    I wouldn't say it's only used in written English, no. I have often used this construction when speaking.

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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    I wouldn't say it's only used in written English, no. I have often used this construction when speaking.
    Interesting. In what context? I can imagine one might use it as a response:

    A: As they say, "Breast is best".
    B: Or is it?

    Can you give an example of how you use it in conversation?

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    ~Mav~ is offline Member
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    Smile Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    *** NOT A TEACHER ***


    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    Interesting. In what context?
    [...]
    Can you give an example of how you use it in conversation?
    I, of course, cannot speak for emsr2d2, but having taken a look at this thread, I immediately recalled a scene from the video game, "Jedi Academy". (Though it is a video game, I hope you don't mind this example, especially having two esteemed teachers with some Star Wars references (R2D2, and an icon of Master Yoda ) in our midst. )

    You can hear the utterance I've referred to at about 0:22

    (The protagonist, who just entered the ancient tomb of a Sith lord, had turned to the dark side, and now she came to defeat Tavion, the leader of a Sith cult. So, it is a duel of two badass Jedi. )
    Last edited by ~Mav~; 08-Oct-2011 at 07:16.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    I'd rank video games with song lyics and sports writing when it comes to sources of good English. I don't think the 'or is it' construction is impossible in conversation, but you are more likely to hear it in scripted speech, in my opinion.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Tag question: Or + positive auxiliary verb

    This is getting really interesting. At least I now understand the construction and might even use it myself in writing, but will probably stay away from it when speaking (unless an overwhelming majority of native speakers on this forum states that it IS used in spoken English).

    I donít know anything about the Jedi world and how authoritative or natural their way of speaking is. I just know that people who learn German and are keen readers of all sorts of literature sometimes come up with really weird stuff. When I point out to them that nobody would ever say something like that, they often refer to sources like a play by Schiller or a poem by some other famous author (where they have picked up an antiquated expression that might have been perfectly fine in the 19th century), or a song text where, for the purpose of rhyme or a pun, some unorthodox construction or word is used.

    (Personally, I donít trust lyrics any more, having put my foot as a student when arguing with my teacher about a mistake she had marked in my composition. It was about lay/lie, and I tried to save face by referring to Bob Dylanís "Lay Lady Lay".)

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