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Which is correct:

  1. It's not raining today, isn't it?
  2. It's not raining today, is it?

marked as duplicate by Mitch, TimLymington, aedia λ, anongoodnurse, FumbleFingers Feb 14 '14 at 0:37

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  • 4
    Second one is correct. The interrogative endings must be an absolute nightmare for non-native speakers whose mother tongue employs a simpler regime. In French it is always 'n'est-ce pas' - literally ''isn't it', irrespective of whether the main clause is positive, negative, singular, plural, first, second or third person, and regardless of tense or mood. In English the 'wouldn't they', hadn't she', 'oughtn't we' forms must be tongue-cramping for newcomers. – WS2 Feb 11 '14 at 16:15
  • Premkumar! Welcome to EL&U. @WS2 +1 for your great example from French – dynamite Feb 11 '14 at 16:22
  • @WS2: English has innit just for that. It merely happens to be of a different register, but it does exist. – RegDwigнt Feb 12 '14 at 19:48
6

The question at the end is implicitly asking the listener to correct you: thus it invites the opposite response to what you have just said.

It isn't raining today, is it?

This invites a response of "It is raining", in case you are mistaken.

It's raining today, isn't it?

This invites a response of "It isn't raining", again in case you are mistaken.

There is a second form of asking questions, which is meant to see if you have correctly understood something that you are being told, either directly or indirectly.

The store is closed today, is it?

This invites a response of "Yes, it is closed". The question indicates that you're looking for verification of something that is apparent. (It's often used when the fact being verified is disappointing.) Used rhetorically, it can stand on its own as an acknolwedgement of an unfortunate fact. The contrary form is never used, however: the negations involved would make it confusing if used as a request for confirmation.

  • 2
    Your explanation of constant polarity tags seems to be off. Also, your explanation of confirmatory reversed polarity tags seems to be not quite right. It might help if you included excerpts from your grammar sources. – F.E. Feb 11 '14 at 18:28
  • 2
    At the behest of others, I have taken a look at the associated Grammarpedia article and am unconvinced. Consider "Question Tags in Translation of Fiction" (p.26-27) or even in prosaic use online (The food....a bit spicy, is it? Sounds just fine to me!). While the expression is guarded about one's own state of belief, this does not entail one does not seek re-affirmation of an idea or statement. – Niel de Beaudrap Feb 12 '14 at 16:23
  • The default type of "question tag" usually has the opposite/reversed polarity to that of the anchor clause -- which is a matter of syntax, not semantic meaning. Though, the selection of a same/constant polarity for a question tag is often done for reasons somewhat similar to what you have stated. I'll try to take a look at the other sources you have linked to later tonight (much later), to see what they are attempting to say. :) – F.E. Feb 12 '14 at 21:26
  • @F.E.: If you say so, though I'm unsure what "default type" and "usually" are meant to suggest here, if not just that it happens in the majority of cases. That leaves a lot of room for a substantial minority --- and even then, it would imply that I'm a bit of a statistical freak for only being exposed to instances in which the reversed polarity is implied via tone (i.e. sarcasm) rather than syntax. – Niel de Beaudrap Feb 12 '14 at 21:29
  • 1
    You're missing the main point I'm trying to say: the grammatical "rule" is that the default question tag has the opposite polarity to the anchor clause's polarity. Now, that doesn't mean that the chosen question tag can't use the same polarity as that of the anchor clause (which is known as "same/constant polarity"). When a question tag uses constant polarity, then that is often because the speaker intentionally did that for a purpose, such as for one of the many reasons that you have mentioned. – F.E. Feb 12 '14 at 22:01
2

Which is correct:

  1. It's not raining today, isn't it?
  2. It's not raining today, is it?

This issue is not so much a matter of "correctness", as it is in recognizing the default type of question tag (i.e. interrogative tag). Usually, or often, a speaker will naturally use a default type of question tag -- but a speaker can choose to use a question tag with the other polarity (i.e. same/constant polarity) on purpose for a specific reason.

Generally, the default question tag has the opposite, or reversed, polarity to that of the anchor clause -- and this is a matter of syntax. The biggest difficulty (especially for EFL speakers) is to figure out the polarity of the anchor clause (i.e. main clause). Many times this is straightforward, but sometimes it ain't.

For instance, the following two examples have positive polarity for their anchor clause, and so, they'll have negative polarity for their default question tag:

  • 1.) "Suki likes mice, doesn't she?"

  • 2.) "Suki dislikes mice, doesn't she?"

(NOTE: A person can be confused by the "dislike" example (#2), seeing that its meaning is very similar to that of the below #3 "Suki doesn't like mice, does she?", and so, might think (erroneously) that a question tag with positive polarity would be the default for the "dislike" example. This issue is discussed more below.)

And a third example, but one that has negative polarity for its anchor clause and positive polarity for its default question tag.

  • 3.) "Suki doesn't like mice, does she?"

We can see that the anchor clause in the "dislike" example (#2) has positive polarity by using the diagnostic "So" test:

  • 1.b) "Suki likes mice, and so does Tom."

  • 2.b) "Suki dislikes mice, and so does Tom."

  • 3.b) "Suki doesn't like mice, and so does Tom." -- (ungrammatical)

So, from the "So" test, we can see that the anchor clauses in #1 and #2 have positive polarity. And we can see that the anchor clause in #3 has negative polarity.

The four patterns of polarity for an anchor clause and its question tag are the following:

  • P1: positive anchor clause / positive question tag. -- ( acceptable: same polarity)

  • P2: positive anchor clause / negative question tag. -- (default: opposite polarity)

  • P3: negative anchor clause / positive question tag. -- (default: opposite polarity)

  • P4: negative anchor clause / negative question tag. -- ( % : same polarity)

Note that "P4", which has negative/negative polarities, is usually found to be unacceptable for many dialects: that only some dialects of standard English can accept that "P4" pattern.

Another interesting tidbit: The tag can be based on a subordinate clause, for instance,

  • A.) I think it's legal, isn't it?

  • B.) I don't think it's legal, is it?

In #A, the form of the tag is based on the subordinate clause "it's legal", and that subordinate clause is treated as the anchor -- the tag has reversed polarity.

In #B, the form of the tag is also based on the subordinate clause "it's legal", and the tag has reversed polarity as the negative it is reversing is in the matrix "think" clause (though, this example involves "specificity increase) -- thus, the tag has reversed polarity.

SUMMARY:

The grammatical "rule" is that, in general, the default question tag has the opposite polarity to the anchor clause's polarity. Now, that doesn't mean that the chosen question tag can't use the same polarity as that of the anchor clause (which is known as "same/constant polarity"). When a question tag uses constant polarity, then that is often because the speaker intentionally did that for a purpose, such as for one of the many reasons that other posters have already mentioned. But the negative/negative polarity pattern (P4) is acceptable only in some dialects.

For more info, there is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language: "Tests for clause polarity" on pages 786-7, "Interrogative tags and parentheticals" on pages 891-5.

  • @martinf What? Get lost. – F.E. Feb 16 '14 at 1:43
  • @martinf Not at all. It's freezing where I'm at. – F.E. Feb 16 '14 at 1:48
  • Considering the shortness of and the apparent knowledge level of the question, this is a rather long and academic answer ;-) – Martin F Feb 17 '14 at 5:08
  • @martinf Then let's see you do better. – F.E. Feb 17 '14 at 6:43
0

The latter is correct. You're contradicting yourself in the first option: "It is not raining today, is it not?"

0

I think both can be correct, depending on your intention. In a), you're using constant polarity (negative with negative), which is typically used to express surprise. In b), you're using reversed polarity (negative with positive), which is used for confirmation.

From Grammarpedia:

Tag questions come in two types: reversed polarity tags and constant polarity tags. In reversed polatiry, the polarity of the tag is opposite to the polarity of the clause. (So, if the clause is positive, the tag will be negative.) Reversed polarity tags are used for confirmation:

Suki dislikes mice, doesn't she? [reversed polarity tag]

Constant polarity tags have the same polarity value as the clause. (So, a positive clause will have a positive tag.) Constant polarity tags are used to express surprise:

Suki dislikes mice, does she? [constant polarity tag]

And I think you left out option c), "It's not raining today, ain't it?". The contraction ain't is typically used to draw attention or to gain emphasis. ;)

  • 2
    Wow, Grammarpedia used a sorta misleading example to demonstrate a positive anchor clause ("Suki dislikes mice, doesn't she?"). – F.E. Feb 11 '14 at 20:42
0

As other answers have stated, the second is correct.

However, the first option, isn't it, is very common in Indian English. Most English speakers would recognise it as such and it would not appear to be out of place.

0

I always took the , to be an implied contraction of the conjunction "or."

"It's not raining, or is it?" -- Yes, it is raining. "It's not too cold outside, or is it?" "No, you better bring a jacket. It's cold."

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