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I've been a part of the discussion on whether it's acceptable to ask someone "You ate?" when meaning to ask "Did you eat?" or "Have you eaten?" and we can't find a definitive answer. We've found some examples of similar ellipses omitting "to do/to have", but they all use present tense, not past tense which can be important.

The question was meant to be asked without prior context and to be a complete sentence, like Mary coming up to John and asking "You ate?"

It doesn't sound right to my ear, but it may just be my own quirks talking.

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    I don't know why, but I prefer 'you eaten?' as a two-word form. 'You've eaten?' is also acceptable. – marcellothearcane Oct 12 '19 at 8:04
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    It sounds unnatural to me (but so does asking someone out of the blue whether they have eaten!). – Kate Bunting Oct 12 '19 at 8:10
  • @KateBunting originally the question was supposed to be put on a poster, hence a requirement of no prior context. I don't want to go into much details as it's not relevant. – Draco-S Oct 12 '19 at 9:22
  • @marcellothearcane yes, "you eaten?" does sound much better in this case. – Draco-S Oct 12 '19 at 9:24
  • If you’re in Singapore, “Eat ready?” (shortened form of “Did you eat already?”) would be a very common way of asking. Wouldn’t recommend using it in non-Singlish areas, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 12 '19 at 10:51
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I see a number of issues here.

Informal ways to ask someone a question about what they've done, which is relevant now

For example, two people meet to eat some cuisine X at a restaurant, and one wants to ask whether the other has ever eaten X before. Full question would be "Have you eaten X before?". Informally, you may omit the "have you": "Eaten X before?". At a pinch, you could omit the "have" and say the "you": "You eaten X before?". (That last form might sound rather blunt to me, in some circumstances.) All forms of the question use the verb's past participle, not its past tense form. The question cannot be *"(You) Ate X before?".

Informal ways to ask someone a question about what they did in the past

For example A: I've just got back from Japan. B: Did you eat whale meat?

Full question would be "Did you eat X?". Informally, you may omit "Did you" or "Did", so the question would be "Eat X?" or "You eat X?" All forms of the question use the verb's infinitive, not its past tense form. The question cannot be *"(You) Ate X?".

So in each of the above cases the verb is not in the past tense form, but in some other form. Even informal short forms of the question don't use the past tense form.

The only way I can see "You ate?" as being a grammatically correct thing to say is if it's grammatically a statement, but said in a questioning tone of voice to make it a question. For example: A: I ate whale meat once when I was in Japan some years ago. B (astonished): You ate whale meat?

But I can't think of any situation where just "You ate?" on its own would be a sensible question to ask.

Now what, I wonder, is your poster supposed to mean? Perhaps the context is two people meeting, round about a mealtime, and one of them wonders if they need to eat right now. Then the question to ask is "Have you eaten?", though to my mind that might be a bit unclear, and I'd prefer if the speaker clarified what meal they're asking about, e.g. "Have you had lunch?". Informally, this could be "You had lunch?". However the question's phrased, the verb needs to be in the past participle.

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  • That is a good analysis, I see the error in our ways now. "You eaten?" is what we were looking for. I'm going to accept it as an answer. The poster is a parody on this early Soviet-era poster: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… featuring Homer J. Simpson and asking whether you've eaten yet. – Draco-S Oct 12 '19 at 20:27
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If it is informal english, you can simply ask others for example "You do your homework?", it is better to use present tense or present perfect tense like "you eat?" and "you have eaten?", but omitting the auxiliary verb is not polite (it is like ordering someone to answer if they have eaten in "you ate?") and I do not recommend you to use it on your friends.

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"You ate?" Is the past tense:

"I eat the apple." "I have eaten" or "I ate the apple yesterday."

A polite way of asking would be: "[Excuse me, but] have you eaten?"

"Have you eaten?" is likely to be used in a less formal situation or between friends.

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