Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Neither of you is going to the show tonight, ____?

Should it be isn't he/she? I think the fact that neither of you takes the third-person singular verb is means that a third-person question tag ought to be used. But it sounds so awfully strange. So does the second-person alternative aren't you? You can trivially replace all question tags with right? in informal speech, but aside from that, what is the appropriate question tag to use in such sentences?

EDIT: Oh right, I should have realized that. How careless of me. But can you explain why you would use "are you" instead of "isn't he/she", even though "neither of you" is a third-person reference?

share|improve this question
1  
There are any number of "grammar nazis" insisting that "neither" is singlular, but I think they are simply wrong. In this context it makes much more sense to say "Neither of you are going, are you?". –  FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 17:35
    
I don't understand. What are you asking that's any different to the ground covered by the question I linked to? –  FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 17:37
    
But "neither of you" would still be a third-person reference, so the question would simply change to whether "aren't you?" or "aren't they?" ought to be used. Still not something that has been asked. –  Kaiser Octavius Feb 19 '12 at 17:38
    
No it's not - Neither of you is second person plural in this construction. I also don't understand why you keep wanting to place your "repetitious/confirmatory clause" in the negative. The standard phrasing is as I've given it above. –  FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 17:42
1  
The former. But I suppose I'm convinced now that considering "neither of you" a second-person reference simplifies things. –  Kaiser Octavius Feb 19 '12 at 18:03

4 Answers 4

The correct tag would be are you?

Neither of you is going to the show tonight, are you?

Note that the main part of the sentence is implicitly negative, because of neither, which explains the choice of are you? over aren't you?

share|improve this answer

Neither of you is going to the show equates to You are not going to the show. And you are not going either. The correct tag for these equivalent sentences is are you and I would suggest this is the correct tag to your original statement: Neither of you is going to the show, are you?

share|improve this answer
    
But they're not completely equivalent, as evidenced by the fact that "neither of you" and "you" don't agree in number - the former taking the third-person singular verb "is", and the latter taking the second-person verb "are". So shouldn't one analyze such sentences on a case-by-case basis, and establish that "are you?" is appropriate for "Neither of you is..." for some reason other than that it is appropriate for "You are not..."? –  Kaiser Octavius Feb 19 '12 at 17:29
    
Sorry, but I suppose the main issue here is that the question tag doesn't agree with the number or person of the subject. That's what has me so confused. Thanks for the answer, though. I will agree that "are you?" sounds the least awkward of the possibilities. –  Kaiser Octavius Feb 19 '12 at 17:33
    
@Kaiser Octavius, I agree that there is a mismatch between the singular is in the main clause and the plural are in the tag. But the speaker is addressing two people and the you of the main clause overrides the singular verb. Sometimes language usage is pragmatic rather than based on strict grammatical logic. This explains, for example, why neither of you are .. is common in informal english. –  Shoe Feb 19 '12 at 18:03

Tag questions don't always follow the simple agreement rules. For one thing, they can occur in sentences that have undergone some strange syntax, like There-insertion.

I have an exercise on Tag Question Formation for my English grammar classes; it's designed for native English speakers, who can fill in the blanks automatically. However, then they have to figure out how the rule works, and that's by no means obvious.

One thing that can help is that any Noun Phrase like "X of T" can usually be analyzed

either

  • as a NP X modified by a prepositional phrase of T (so the verb agrees with X)

or

  • as a quantifier X (of) modifying a NP T (so the verb agrees with T).
share|improve this answer
1  
But surely in OP's particular case one would "think ahead", foresee the problem if you started with "Neither of you is...", and switch to "are"? If you weren't quick enough to do that, wouldn't you just forget about the "tag question"? I can't see any sensible way of doing it if you used the singular verb, which in any case you shouldn't have wanted to do because you're asking two people, not making a statement about each one as an individual. –  FumbleFingers Feb 20 '12 at 1:05

According to CGEL, neither of you is a partitive construction, and you is called the partitive oblique. It mentions cases in which "the antecedent is construed as plural with respect to subject-verb agreement. Here the pronoun takes its person and number from the partitive oblique. But also includes cases in which "the antecedent takes a 3rd person singular verb but a 1st or 2nd person plural pronoun," but opines, "many will feel that this difference makes the construction less than fully felicitous (and would feel more comfortable with a plural verb), but for others it is acceptable and explicable in terms of the potentially more mechanical nature of subject-verb agreement."

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.