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At least, I think the proper word is interrogatives. But, for example, in proper sentence structure, you would see sentences such as,

Are you still here, Alouicious?

Is there a doctor in the room?

In informal speech, sometimes you can omit the actual questioning word, but still pass it off as a question, so long as it isn't confused for a completely different query.

You still here, Alouicious?

There a doctor in the room?

I know it's probably not sound in terms of grammar, but my concern is, is this considered a rude or uncouth kind of language? Or at least, is it considered far less polite than to use the full sentence?

It also shows up in the case of converting, say, "What the <intensifier> are you doing?" into "The <intensifier> you doing?", but I imagine the politeness of that scenario tends to get clouded by the choice of intensifier.

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"Are" and "Is" are not listed in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interrogative_word –  Unreason May 27 '11 at 14:13
    
@Unreason Hm... then I wonder what the correct term is. Let's see if there's already an English question on that... –  Grace Note May 27 '11 at 14:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

What you are talking about is totally sound in terms of grammar; it's just informal. It's not generally considered rude at all, except on occasions using informal language in general can come off as rude. (Of course, your last example with "what the _" has the potential to be quite offensive, but that would be determined by the profanity you decided to insert into the sentence and not whether you dropped a verb.)

This process is systematic. You are omitting either the copula or the auxiliary verb in an interrogative sentence. This means the word that is dropped is either be, have, or do.

  • (Are) you tired? (copula)
  • (Is) he coming with us? (auxiliary)
  • (Have) you seen anything like this before?
  • (Does) anyone want tea?

People do this all the time; probably more than they realize.


As for "(what) the hell" and such constructions, the dropping of what and the syntax behind it is a bit of a different animal. Profanity often has extra-linguistic properties; even the "what the _" construction (forgetting about omitting what) itself does not follow any kind of normal syntactic structure at all.

(For another example, check out this extremely interesting linguistics paper: English Sentences without Overt Grammatical Subjects. Warning: this paper examines profanity so... don't be surprised at what you read.)

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It is not rude by itself, and you can certainly find it in regular usage, esp. in spoken language e.g.

Examples (even shorter / OP's / full form, formal):

Q: Still there? / You still there? / Are you still there?
A: Yeah. / Yeah. / Yes, I am here.

which is perfectly understandable and not rude at all.

It is informal, (and I would say on the same level as the answer 'Yeah' is) so in situations where being informal is not appropriate it would be inappropriate.

With your other example

There a doctor in the room?

the shortening achieved by omitting the "Is" is so small that, in my opinion, you will not find this example nowhere nearly as often (and probably only as a slang that emphasizes such constructs).

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The main thing it does is turn the question into more of a "ping", a quick question that expects a quick reply. Whether or not that is considered rude depends on the context: "You still there?" during a pause in a phone call is generally acceptable, but not if your phone call is a job interview, for example.

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The fact it is not used in a job interview doesn't mean it is rude to use such construct. –  kiamlaluno May 27 '11 at 13:18
2  
My point exactly, @kiamlaluno. It's not rude, but neither is it part of formal speech. –  JeffSahol May 27 '11 at 13:29

It is more likely it evolved as a transition between a statement and an interrogative: rather than shifting the be, just drop it, leaving it somewhere between these two domains.

You are there.
Are you there?
You there — (with a tonal variation subtly suggesting a query) [I'm dropping the punctuation in writing].

That could be a mere conjecture, though.

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