Monday, 13 August 2007

AAE Q89: question tags

Hi Matt,

I have a question concerning the question tags.

I hear that the two sentences

"He rarely dances, does he?" and
"He dances rarely, doesn't he?"
mean exactly the same.

My question is:
How is it possible that in the first question, the question tag is positive, while in the second one the question tag is in a negative form (although only the position of "rarely" has changed)?

Normally when a sentence is positive, the question tag is negative (e.g. It's hot, isn't it?) and when the sentence is negative the question tag is positive (e.g. It isn't hot, is it?). However we use positive question tags after never, no, nobody, scarcely, rarely, seldom, hardly and little.

Therefore the first sentence:
"He rarely dances, does he?" is fine.

However I think that the second sentence is also fine.

How can the position (or the word order) of a word change the question tag in this example? I don't understand it and am really confused!
It is a good question. Unfortunately I do not know and cannot find the answer. From experimenting with different sentences I think that 'rarely' is the only adverb that has this effect. The second sentence definitely places more emphasis on the word 'rarely' but I can't explain why the tag is negative.
What do the sentences mean, actually? Do they describe just the fact that someone doesn't dance too often (i.e. seldom)?
Yes, they both describe that.
I hope you don't mind I'm (me) bothering you with such a question. (By the way, I'm sorry for my mistakes but if you want you can correct me - I'd be really pleased! ;))

Thanks in advance!
You only made one mistake I'm should be me

Hope this helps



Jana said...

This is what I think:
In the sentence "he rarely dances" the adverb "rarely" functions as a negative, therefore there is a positive question tag (as if the sentence was "he (almost) NEVER dances"). The negative marker in English sentences precedes the verb. The most important information here is that he (almost) DOESN´T dance.
In the next sentence the adverb is in the final position, i.e. where most adverbs often are (like "he dances WELL, he dances AWKWARDLY" etc.). Because of this, it is not perceived as a negative, only as an added quality or information - the sentence could read HE DANCES (but rarely) - i.e., the most important information here is that (maybe despite his aversion to dancing) he dances anyway - at least sometimes. That´s why the question tag is negative, as the sentence is considered more positive than negative.
Hope this helps? :-)))

Matt Ford said...

Thanks for your help Jana. I think you are right and have explained it very well.

Lenka said...

Thank you very much, Matt and Jana!

Jana, you're probably right and I can't say anything else than that it (your explanation) did help me ;).

I am not that good at English and if you didn't mention the reason why you think the word order changes the question tag I would really not know why the tag is positive in one example and negative in the other one.

Anyway, what about the functional sentence perspective? (I'm not too sure it's called like this in English - I mean "aktuální větné členění" in Czech). I know that the English word order is usually rather "fixed" (I am not sure this is the right word for it) because English is not an inflected language, but still, if you write/say a word at the end of a sentence (when it isn't obligatory), you just emphasize the word (rhema), don't you?

You're right that most adverbs are usually placed at the end of a sentence but the adverbs of frequency are (I think so!) always (or maybe almost always or usually) placed before a verb! Rarely is an adverb of frequency, isn't it?

Again, I'd appreciate if someone corrected me :).

Jana said...

Yes, it is a rheme at the end of the sentence, though English has some limits to the word order changes as a device for expressing the functional sentence perspective and this might not be possible in an sentence.
However, the explanation already lies in what you have said, only pursue it a bit further :-) i.e. I agree with you :-)
As a frequency adverb, RARELY should be placed before the verb. There it is in the sentence "He rarely dances" and there it also fulfills its function as an "almost" negative marker (of course, this does not apply to all frequency adverbs, like often, usually etc.). RARELY is simply more close to NEVER than anything else.
In the sentence with a bit uncommon word order, RARELY is the rheme, an added information (maybe an afterthought): we have just said that HE DANCES and then we want to specify it a bit - "well, he dances - but actually not so often..."

Lenka said...

Aaaah... I see! Thank you, Jana! :)

It was just a coincidence I "came back" to this topic... That's why I have read your answer almost one month after you posted it.

By the way, do you know this site: http://forum.wordreference.com/ by any chance?