15

I came across an image of a toilet cleaning product, which had the following printed on the label:

You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet didn't you

Forgiving the lack of punctuation, someone on the online forum pointed out that the correct format would be "aren't you", not "didn't you".

To me, both make sense, as you could be referring to the first part of the sentence ("you're reading"), or the middle part ("you forgot"). Could they both be appropriate?

16

Here are the two versions, numbered for convenience and with sentence-punctuation disregarded:

  1. You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet didn't you
  2. You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet aren't you

In sentence 2, aren't you matches you're reading, which we can write as you are reading. There's no disagreement with this form, so let's focus on sentence 1.

In sentence 1, didn't you matches you forgot, which we can write as you did forget. (It could conceivably match you went as well, but that just compounds the problem.) So the structure of sentence 1 may be thought of as

  • You're reading this because (reason)

However, "you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet didn't you" is a rhetorical question, not really a reason. So if we punctuate #1 in the straightforward manner, it's not grammatically correct:

  • (*) You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet, didn't you?

If we punctuate it differently, however, we can argue that the sentence employs anacoluthon:

  • You're reading this because ... you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet, didn't you?

An anacoluthon is an unexpected discontinuity in the expression of ideas within a sentence, leading to a form of words in which there is logical incoherence of thought. Anacolutha are often sentences interrupted midway, where there is a change in the syntactical structure of the sentence and of intended meaning following the interruption. An example is the Italian proverb "The good stuff – think about it." - wikipedia

You ask:

Could they both be appropriate?

Yes, they could, but only if the missing punctuation is filled in appropriately.

  • 5
    It's a written question on a bottle with no way to reply. Isn't it safe to say it is a rhetorical question? – PV22 Jun 25 '17 at 23:03
  • 1
    If we place the missing punctuation in the straightforward manner, the sentence as a whole isn't a rhetorical question. The embedded rhetorical question is then out of place. – Lawrence Jun 25 '17 at 23:06
  • 2
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, and a word I'd never heard before. – Lev P Jun 25 '17 at 23:44
  • 1
    @LevP You're welcome. Yes, it doesn't come up in conversation much. These days, it's often enough to know the concepts, and rely on web searches for the technical terms. – Lawrence Jun 25 '17 at 23:49
  • This is going to be like whacking a bee hive, but I've got to say it. This is not an example of anacoluthon. It's just employing an insufficient definition to mould this sentence to it. – Ash Jun 27 '17 at 2:15
10
  1. "You forgot your smartphone when you went to the bathroom, didn't you?"

The focus of the sentence is your forgetting the phone.

  1. "You're reading this, aren't you?"

The focus of the sentence is that you are reading it.

"Because" is used as a conjunction, and the second half of the conjunction is akin to example 1. The two sentences could be divided without the conjunction as follows:

You're reading this. You forgot your smart phone when you went to the bathroom, didn't you?

4

Just answering because I feel there are some incomplete and some inaccurate answers.

You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet, didn't you?

is incorrect because the primary statement here is You are reading.... not You forgot...

You forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet, didn't you?

is correct because the primary statement here is You forgot....

You're reading this because you forgot your smartphone when you went to the toilet, aren't you?

is correct and what you require in this case because the primary statement here is You are reading.... I don't believe both the usages you suggested are appropriate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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