Question tags: affirmative/affirmative



I'm having problems wrapping my mind around the reasoning behind the following sentence/tag combinations:


You think it'll be difficult, do you?


So, you think you're smart, do you?

I'm aware that normally a positive sentence requires a negative tag and vice-versa. Additionally, I understand the use of tags for either

A. Seeking confirmation/agreement (as in "I'm relatively sure that X is so, but please confirm it for me.")

B. Posing a true question (as in "I think X is so, but please correct me if I'm wrong.")

Neither of the two initial examples seem to fit within this A/B framework, and though I'd just intuitively construct sentences (1) and (2) without hesitation, I find it difficult to explain them.

Any help appreciated!

Posted 22 February 2003


Sentence (1) does not express confirmation, but asks for confirmation. It expresses friendly interest, and implies "Tell me more."

Sentence (2) implies disappointment, or less than friendly feelings, and even suspicion, disapproval or threat.

I took my interpretations from your vocabulary. I want to note also that L.G. Alexander, who explains these types of sentences concisely in Longman English Grammar (Longman 1988), states that the intonation of the tags differs in the types of sentences in (1) and in (2).

In sentence (1), the friendly type, the tag has a rising tone.
In sentence (2), the unfriendly type, there is a falling tone. In Alexander's words: "The tone falls at the end of the statement, and rises only on the tag. No answer is required."

Other examples of the type in Sentence 1) could be:

They're getting married, are they? I'm happy for them.

You found a job, did you? Great!

Other examples of the type in sentence (2) could be:

You sold Grandmother's diamond bracelet, did you? I'm really sorry about that. I thought I was supposed to inherit it.

You knew this all along, did you? I'm angry that you didn't tell me.

She thinks we're na飗e, does she? I'm angry, and we're certainly not going to let her take advantage of us.

This is helpful, Robin, is it?