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A typical conversation among members of my age demographic could go like this:

Person 1: Did you know that x > y?!?

Person 2: Are you sure?

Person 1: Yeah, I'm sure.

Person 2: Are you sure sure?

Is this grammatically correct?

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In my experience, someone would say "Are you sure you're sure?" rather than "Are you sure sure?". –  Polynomial Dec 1 '11 at 11:13
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I don't think "grammatically correct" is really a meaningful issue in respect of this relatively common spoken usage - but if I have to have an opinion, I'd say it's valid but informal.

In general, to be a [noun] noun], or be [adjective] [adjective] is simply an informal way of adding emphasis.

Often it's because the word being repeated has acquired multiple shades of meaning - arguably in OP's example the word sure can mean anything from "Okay, I guess so" to "I would stake my life on it". The repetition is intended to focus attention on the primary meaning (certainty).

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This is a grammatical process called contrastive focus reduplication. It's rare but grammatically valid in casual spoken English. (In many languages reduplication of various sorts is a common grammatical process, indicating that it is a normal product of how we think and (ab)use language.) –  SevenSidedDie Sep 8 '12 at 19:40
    
@SevenSidedDie: Hmm. Doesn't look like a useful subclassification to me. "Yummy Yummy yummy! I got room in my tummy!". Sure, sure, you can name anything - but what does that mean. –  FumbleFingers Sep 9 '12 at 1:31
    
That's rhyming reduplication and isn't particularly interesting. Contrastive focus reduplication is way cooler. (My intention was only to provide more information for the curious. Also, to confirm that it's "valid but informal". As you were! ;) –  SevenSidedDie Sep 9 '12 at 2:28
    
@SevenSidedDie: Yeah, yeah. Like I say - Hmm. Repeating a word to indicate that your intended meaning is the standard meaning for that word doesn't seem to me inherently more interesting than repeating it to emphasise/stress a meaning which was never in doubt. Besides which, I think that second purpose applies in OP's case, so it doesn't seem to fit this definition anyway. –  FumbleFingers Sep 9 '12 at 11:38
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Modern slang in North America (it doesn't seem to be restricted to a single age group) doubles a word to indicate emphasis, or in some cases that it's "really" whatever the word is - either that it truly literally is, that it is some sort of examplar of the word, or that it is a lot of whatever the word indicates.

  • Joe and Sue are coming as a couple, but they're not a couple-couple.
  • I told him I was flexible and now he thinks I'm flexible-flexible.
  • I have to do some work but it's not work-work, I'm just booking some plane tickets

Language Log has quite a few mentions of this. Try http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3286 , http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004591.html and http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004594.html for starters - they have links to research papers, and/or comics. Can't lose, really.

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I agree with both FumbleFingers and Kate Gregory.

However, in this particular case, it seems to me that the sentence actually implies: "Are you sure [that you are] sure?". If the dropped words are correctly understood, the sentence makes perfect sense. It is not merely adding emphasis.

Grammar may not allow dropping words arbitrarily, though.

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