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Natsumi Jan 9th, 2015 08:43 am

rhetorical questions (with question tags)
I would appreciate if someone could give me some information about this kind of question. I've come across with question tags like these ones:

Oh, so he paid you back at last, did he?
So we're meeting at 9, are we?

But I can't find a gramatical explanation in my grammar books or on the Internet. The only grammar explanation I've found so far it's that when the first part of the question is positive, the second part is negative and viceversa.

My question is: We use a question tag (positive clause, positive clause) only when we want to ask a rhetorical question? If so, can we use as well a negative clause with another negative clause? e.g. So he didn't pay you back, didn't he?

Thank you in advanced.

ICAL TEFL Jan 9th, 2015 09:47 am

Re: rhetorical questions (with question tags)
We use question tags to:

1) verify information: You're a Sagittarius, aren't you?
2) to seek agreement: He's ugly, isn't he!
3) to show negative surprise: OMG You're not marrying her, are you!

This explains it in detail: Question Tags in English Grammar

leon037 Jan 11th, 2015 09:35 pm

Re: rhetorical questions (with question tags)
Hi Natsumi,

In conversation at least, it feels like you can phrase a tag question in positive or negative, if the first part is positive, but not if the first part is negative. I'm not sure whether technically you should, phrase it positive positive, but there are probably plenty of examples of this in movie scripts or everyday conversation...

i.e. with reference to your example:

He paid you back, didn't he?, or He didn't pay you back, did he? (are the normal ways to phrase this question)

"He paid you back, did he? " Seems ok to my ears. It pretty much means the same thing, but has a different shade of meaning (it sounds very casual, and may be technically incorrect, so you are safest to avoid using that, especially in tests).

"He didn't pay you back, didn't he?" Just sounds wrong.

Hope that helps.

Natsumi Jan 12th, 2015 02:36 am

Re: rhetorical questions (with question tags)
Hi Leon037,

Yes, your answer helps a lot. Now I understand why I can't find these kinds of tag questions in a grammar book. I saw these tag questions in the advanced coursebook I'm using, which says you can use them as a rhetorical question, but it doesn't say anything about being a very informal way of speech, or about the use of two negative clauses.

Thank you!

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