In our English lesson today, we learn about some aspects of conversational English. Talking in casual conversations is different to writing in English. For example, when native English speakers talk informally, they often imply hint and suggest the answers expected when asking questions.
This is great if you can listen and understand enough of what is being said so you can understand/guess what the speaker is expecting. That’s why listening to native English speakers over and over helps, it pushes you build up how quick you are in understanding what is being said.
In some ways this manner of English conversation makes an English language learners life a lot easier. If the person you are speaking to simplifies the reply expected to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to a question, then all you need to do it understand what the speaker is saying and decide if your answer is a yes or no.
So are you ready to learn how to improve your casual conversations? (Hint: I'm expecting a yes here!)
I haven't had any formal education. Through the grace of god, I am gifted in mathematics and the English language.
⭐ Shakuntala Devi, Indian writer
[questioner](https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/questioner) phrasing Brits presupposes
Hi there and welcome to Adept English. Talking in English uses different expressions sometimes, different from written English. We phrase things differently when speaking. So how about today we look at questions expecting the answer Yes and questions expecting the answer No? Speaking English, talking in conversation – this is the kind of practice that you need.
So sometimes English presupposes the answer to questions - the questioner is indicating which way they expect you to answer. To ‘presuppose’ means to ‘guess in advance’, to predict, if you like.
So you might hear people asking questions in the following way:-
- ‘He lives above his shop, doesn’t he’? or perhaps
- ‘You will close the door when you leave, won’t you?’ or
- ‘You think it’s going to rain, don’t you?’
So in these examples, the questioner is asking by making a statement about something, then adding the question at the end of the sentence – in the negative, as though an afterthought! But this way of asking shows that the questioner expects the answer to be ‘Yes’. And this works whatever the tense of the verb, whether it’s past, present or future. You can also make it past tense, for example ‘He lived above his shop, didn’t he?’ So we do this a lot in English conversation. Sometimes we’re genuinely looking for confirmation. Sometimes, we’re not really expecting an answer, though grammatically, it’s a question.
And of course the opposite way to ask the question is to expect ‘No’ as an answer. So let’s use the same sentences as examples. If the questioner is expecting the answer to be ‘No’, then they sound like this:-
- ‘He doesn’t live above his shop, does he?’ - and the expected answer might be ‘No, he lives next door’.
- ‘You won’t close the door when you leave, will you?’
- ‘You don’t think it’s going to rain, do you?’
So this isn’t something that you’ll come across often in written English – unless it’s a written dialogue, a written conversation or a script for a play perhaps. It’s something that we only really use when we’re speaking English, talking to one another.
If you’ve ever studied Latin L-A-T-I-N, it’s the difference between ‘nonne’, N-O-N-N-E and ‘num’, N-U-M. So in Latin when you’re asking a question, if it starts with ‘nonne’, you’re expecting the answer to be ‘Yes’. And if your question starts with the word ‘num’, you’re expecting the answer to be ‘No’. That way of doing it, with a ‘nonne’ or a ‘num’ is actually easier than the English way, I think!
Just let me take a moment there to remind you about our course, Course One: Activate Your Listening. What does the course title actually mean? Well, the verb ‘to activate’ means that you make something more active, you set it off, you make it more reactive. So you might ‘activate your account’ online – when you’ve just signed up for something. Or in chemistry a chemical reaction make be ‘activated’. So ‘Activate your Listening’ is intended to give you lots of listening material, to help you work on those parts of the brain which are to do with listening, listening and understanding. The covers topics like the UK, education and food. It’s an English speaking course to give you English speaking practice too. The Course One, Activate your Listening also gives you practice at English conversation understanding. It’s especially good if the podcasts are difficult for you and you want to improve your spoken English as well as your understanding. So go to our website at adeptenglish.com, where you can buy Course One today!
So this question expecting the answer ‘Yes’ or question expecting the answer ‘No’ - it’s not complicated in English, but it can feel awkward and strange if you’re not used to it. It also has variations. So another way of phrasing that question, expecting the answer yes might be:-
‘Doesn’t he live above his shop?’. That’s got the same meaning as ‘He lives above his shop, doesn’t he?’ You’ll hear both these in conversation and both expect ‘Yes’ to be the answer. And ‘He doesn’t live above his shop, does he?’ expects ‘No’.
A photograph of a man speaking on a mobile phone discussing travel in an English conversation.
So further examples of this:-
- ‘Isn’t it going to rain?’ - this means I think it’s going to rain, but I’m checking you think so too.
- ‘It isn’t going to rain, is it?’ - this means that I don’t think it’s going to rain, but I’m checking that you don’t think it’s going to rain either.
- ‘It is going to rain, isn’t it?’ means I think it’s going to rain – and I’m just checking you agree with me.
In US English, quite a common form is to say ‘It’s going to rain, right?’. So again it’s a statement, made into a question by adding ‘right’, R-I-G-H-T and a questioning tone at the end. And both Brits and American use this way of phrasing a question in spoken English. What Americans also do quite a lot is ‘It’s going to rain, huh?’ So that’ an ‘H-U-H?’, ‘Huh?’ at the end. We don’t really do that in the UK. But again that’s a question expecting the answer ‘Yes’.
How about some more examples? So listen out for how you do the verb at the end.
- You live in Canada, don’t you?
- They walk their dog every day, don’t they?’
- She is a dentist, isn’t she?
- You can swim, can’t you?
- We were ill yesterday, weren’t we?
- You’re going to London this weekend, aren’t you?
- You have a mobile phone, don’t you?
- I should be leaving now, shouldn’t I?’
So it’s clear from these examples that questions expecting the answer ‘Yes’, put the negative form at the end, before the question mark. What you’ll also notice in this list is that most ordinary verbs need ‘don’t you?’ or ‘doesn’t he’ in these sentences. But the verb ‘to be’ needs itself, so you’d end with ‘weren’t you?’ or ‘isn’t she?’ - ‘She’s a dentist, isn’t she?’ So it repeats its own verb form. And modal verbs like ‘can’ and ‘should’ also repeat at the end of the sentence – so you would say ‘You can swim, can’t you?’ or ‘I should leave, shouldn’t I?’. And the verb to have – well there are choices here.
You could use the example I said ‘You have a mobile phone, don’t you?’ but you could also say ‘You have a mobile phone, haven’t you?’ Both are fine. And if it was perfect tense, past tense – ‘You haven’t lost your phone, have you?’. That question expects ‘No’ and ‘You’ve lost your phone, haven’t you?’ expects ‘Yes’. So some practice is needed to understand how to actually phrase these sorts of questions correctly. As with everything else, you’ll hear them and understand them first – and then later on, you’ll start to use them yourself.
So if you want to speak English fluently, talk English, phrases like this are useful to you. what I’m going to do now is repeat the questions expecting a ‘Yes’ answer from above, but this time I’ll also give the same question, expecting the answer ‘No’. Then if you listen to this podcast again – you can practise saying the opposite type of question, as you listen to the first form of ‘Yes’ expecting questions. Here goes.
|You do live in Canada, don’t you?||(….So you do the negative version, the question expecting ‘No’, which is the same...)|
|You do live in Canada, don’t you?||You don’t live in Canada, do you?|
|They walk their dog every day, don’t they?||They don’t walk their dog every day, do they?|
|She is a dentist, isn’t she?||She isn’t a dentist, is she?|
|You can swim can’t you?||You can’t swim, can you?|
|We were ill yesterday, weren’t we?||We weren’t ill yesterday, were we?|
|You’re going to London this weekend, aren’t you?||You aren’t going to London this weekend, are you?|
|You do have a mobile phone, don’t you?||You don’t have a mobile phone, do you?|
|I should be leaving now, shouldn’t I?||I shouldn’t be leaving now, should I?|
Of course, what I’m saying is that this form of questioning is usually spoken and it expects a certain answer. However, if the answer you give is the opposite to what’s expected – that’s OK too. It’s not considered rude or anything – it’s just surprising, not what the other person thought you were going to say.
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I hope this is good practice for your English. Talking in conversations, British people use these kinds of questions all the time – so it’s good to be familiar with this type of question. Adept English gives you free English lessons for English speaking and English listening. So I hope that’s helpful.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.