https://www.duolingo.com/Selma-Ibrahim

A Weird Thing I Noticed About English

TL;DR: Has anyone ever thought about why it's acceptable and grammatically correct to say, "Aren't I?"

Ever since I started learning Spanish, I've been breaking down the English language into bits and pieces, and I started discovering how odd it can really be. Take the whole "verb to do" thing that confuses the heck out of many English learners. The contractions. The irregularities. The pronunciation.

But one thing that got me really, really confused was this:

"Aren't I?"

Isn't that like saying, "Isn't you?"

Pretty weird, huh?

June 1, 2016

79 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/-Katrina.-

Yeah, that's so weird. Some more weird examples:

"Why can't you come?" = Why can not you come?

"Don't you dare!" = Do not you dare!

I'm sorry, English learners.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/wombatua

Most English speakers would change the word order if not using a contraction - why can you not come, do you not dare. Not that that makes it any easier...

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/adlihtam

Do you not dare? Sounds like a question.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/-Katrina.-

True. I feel like native English speakers are lot looser with grammar rules, though, so that's probably confusing if English learners are trying to learn how natives sound.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

This isn't a matter of violating grammar rules. "Why can't you come?" and "Why can you not come?" are both entirely grammatical English utterances.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

1st example, yes...but I think you'd be hard pressed to find many people this century who have said "do you not dare", other than conversations like this where we are talking about language use itself.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Deborah.la.Abeja

I'd say "you do not dare".

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/morgaaan_

omg that's so weird. I have never seen it like that before

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

I'm going to have to ponder this a while, am't I?

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/wstockall

I think you meant "amn't", but try to say that a couple of times and I think it's pretty clear why we don't. Or maybe that's just my impression from decades of conditioning :-)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

Heavens, you're correct! And I amn't correct. Good catch :)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/thwain

"And I'm not correct" is probably a better use of contraction. You wouldn't say "I aren't", would you?

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/A_User

I would. :-P But I would prefer saying "I ain't correct. :-)

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/A_User

It is so! And ain't is only hated by amn't because amn't is jealous.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

Noooooooooooo!!! Not the hated ain't!! Say it ain't so!

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

amn't = am not ;)

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/thwain

So would you use a double contraction: I'mn't

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

@thwain: Yes, I guess I'd.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/A_User

I'mn't sure, but probly.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/A_User

Some of us do.... :-)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/BastouXII

I believe Scots do say that.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/AndrewMTO

I think the Irish use "amn't" also when speaking English.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/-Katrina.-

As will I. These posts about the strangeness of the English language always make me wonder, "Now how exactly did this happen?" ponders

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/grey236

Latin, Dutch, German, and the Norse languages decided to all raise a new language that they named "English", but they couldn't agree on what it should be like. So eventually they split up their shares. Latin was allowed to introduce new words, Dutch was allowed to hang out with English in hopes of them becoming closer and closer, the Norse languages introduced their simplicity to English, and German got to be in charge of everything

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/tiramisues

Well if the Germans were in charge, there wouldn't be an English language. We do love our bureaucracy... Well no we don't but we have it anyway. But maybe that's where the exceptions come from, it was just to much hassle to get all the rules accepted in that bureaucratic process.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Wesley630988

Haha! Here's a lingot!

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/BastouXII

*amn't I?

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward

Clearly I am in desperate need of English lessons.
Would you consider teaching via Skype? :)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/BastouXII

I amn't sure I could teach my second language to a native very well...

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/usmcfunkymunky

This is actually something I say quite often, and it's a very natural word for me.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr.Quizzical

The annoying thing with English is the use of double negatives.

"You can't come?"

If you can't go, people say "no". But saying no to this question is actually disagreeing with the "can't" and you are actually saying you can come.

English is very strange.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

why should it be the case that two negatives should make a positive in language? adding two negative numbers does not yield a positive one. And, as far as languages go, there are a multitude of languages that have double, triple, or more negation in a single sentence that all equates to simple negation.

Anyway, that is not how your example works. If someone asks "you can't come?" and you say "no", what you are really doing is saying "no(, I can't come)". Many Spanish textbooks will teach responding negatively to such questions in this way. "no puedes venir?" "no, no puedo venir".

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/adlihtam

Multiplying two negative numbers does though! (The inverse of the inverse vs. emphasised inverse) This is how English works with double negatives (usually), so Mr. Quizzical has a point, but you are also right in that this is just the way people talk.

If we are not in the twenty-first century - we're in some other century.

If we are not (not in the twenty-first century) - well, that's where we are.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

First, again, in some languages it is not some "devolution" or some such nonsense that makes it that multiple negative elements still come out to -one- negation (please revisit my Spanish example).

Second, English uses both (emphasized inverse, if I understand what you mean, and inverse of inverse), so to imply that only one should apply and be considered "correct" is silly. "I'm not NOT hungry" is clearly different in multiple ways than "No, I can't come" as a response to "You can't come?" "no" isn't negating the truth value of "you can't come", it is simply a lead in response to the fully realized answer to the question, which is "I can't come". If "no" were truly an element to cause negation, you would be able to say "that ball is no red" and, while there -are- contexts in normal speech where that -can- be a well-formed utterance, it doesn't really mean quite the same thing as "that ball is not red".

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

I think, then, the point is that saying "no, I can't come" is not a double negative in the same way that "not not" is.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/PaulBivand

Native British English speaker here. Standard British English has the double negative as positive construction. So this is what learners should use.

However, spoken dialects in English use double (and more) negatives as intensifiers. This is actually the older form and is similar in Old English pre 1066. Don't know when it changed may be as late as the Eighteenth Century when a lot of latinate words and grammatical forms were imported to make the language grander.

So, if you're in conversation you may find British English speakers using both forms, even more confusing. Can't speak for US English here, though maybe Appalachian may have older forms

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

My point is that negation is not as simple as people are making it, that there is grammatical nuance to negation. So simply saying "SBE has the double negative as positive construction. So this is what learners should use" is misleading. Even in the most formal of prescriptivist circles, I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone say that "no, I can't" is a double negative that really means "yes".

Your second and third paragraphs only further make my point. Remember that a language is spoken first, and written second.

June 3, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/navivid

I think it's more "You can not come?" "No (I can't)" the 'I can't' being implied after the "No" : ) People do that a lot with "Do you mind?" though!! A lot of people answer with "Sure" or something like that, meaning "No I don't mind, go ahead" but I would always say "No, (I don't mind)" I don't know, words can be weird

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/jzsuzsi

See this comic : http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/2016/01/not-incorrect.html#.V05_9cCLTIU

As I see, if someone asks you a negative question, the safe way is to answer like "Yes, I can" or "No, I can't"

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/AndrewMTO

Just like when driving - I turn left, right? Right! Do you mean I am correct that I turn left or that I have to turn right?

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/DiegoJaviUnlam

The same way as in Spanish. We say all the time, ¿No me puedes ayudar? or ¿No me podrías ayudar? (more polite). Also, ¿No escuchaste nada?.

It is normal, for example when asking for information or help, with two forms used:

¿Me dice la hora?

¿No me dice la hora?

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/tu.8zPhLD72zzoZN

Where did you see that it was grammatically correct? It is sometimes acceptable informally. http://www.learnersdictionary.com/qa/aren-t-i-or-am-i-not It should be "Aren't you?", "Isn't he?", "Am I not?" (though a bit formal) or the colloquial "Ain't I?" I have actually heard people say "Amn't I?" but I think that is rather rare. There just isn't an established "proper" shortcut for that one, so people come up with all kinds of things! Of course, if I don't know if I am or not that is already a problem. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/contractions https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_English_contractions As for the change in word order from "Are you not?" to "Aren't you?" that makes sense to me because a contraction combines two words into one word and that one word contains the verb so it goes before the pronoun in the question form, but some of the more colloquial combinations just wouldn't make sense to me in question format "y'all'll'ven't" or "y’all’dn’t’ve". I would use "Won't you have?" or "Wouldn't you have?" Those are short enough for me.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/HyacinthFT

Def #2 in websters: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aren't. It's not even labeled "slang" or "nonstandard" or anything. Your link says it's perfectly grammatical.

About the formal/informal distinction, I can't think of a formal document that would use such a structure anyway; in what formal context in 2016 is it appropriate to ask rhetorical questions about oneself? If you're writing "I'm a great biologist, aren't I?" in a research paper, those last two words are the least of your problems.

Using "aren't I" to mean "am I not" goes back several centuries in English and appears in edited, published texts regularly. I don't see any reason to consider it incorrect. If the absence of logic of the contraction of "am not" being "aren't" in questions is too much for you, just consider it an exception. We have lots of those in English. We don't say "gooder" even though other adjectives get an -er in the comparative; we don't say "I beed" even though other verbs get an -ed in the simple past tense; and we use "aren't I" to mean "am I not." English isn't about logic or consistency.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/tu.8zPhLD72zzoZN

I am glad the dictionary had that for us to see! It is funny that I didn't look there, because I do use that dictionary quite often! That dictionary is pretty good about listing all the informal things we use in speech. Here it is shown as an idiom: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/aren-t?q=aren%27t
I was specifically taught not to use it though and it is not popular in my area, but I believe you completely that it is in published texts. I never said it was "too much for me"! I simply asked where it was shown as grammatically correct? Thank you for showing me what I had missed. Note that I had even included "ain't" which is considered by some as nonstandard which also appears in these dictionaries. So it is not because "aren't" is too much for me, but more because it is not so often used as all that either. I see now that some people probably consider it to be the best version.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/zaqsert

It should be "Ain't I?"

But "ain't" is forbidden by English teachers.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/MagicalMaya13

Ain't is actually a word. It was added to the Oxford dictionary a couple of years ago.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/scilling

Both “ain’t” words are in the second edition of the OED, which was first published in 1989. If I had a copy of the first edition, I’d check to see if they were in there also. (The earliest written source for the “are not/am not” variety of “ain’t” is from 1778, and the earliest one for the “have not/has not” variety is from 1845.)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/CHarrell13

Oh, man, taking your L2 brain training and trying to apply it to your native is so fun, if brain-scrambling. My favorite thing is how I will suddenly (usually in the middle of a sentence) be come -acutely- aware of what my tongue is doing, especially with all the diphthongs English has. Dizzying.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/JanPaulido

Embrace ambiguity = language learning rule number 1 ..... :) English is hightly irregular , but so much so , it becomes an art

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/grey236

I've always though English looked boring for a Germanic language, I mean, which text looks more interesting to you?:

Old English

  • Ealle fīras sind boren frēo ond geefenlican in ār ond riht. Hīe sind gifeðe gerād ond ingehygd, ond sculon dōn ongēan oðrum be feore of brōþorhāde.

Modern English

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Selma-Ibrahim

Old English looks more interesting of course, but that's only because I don't understand it =)

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Wesley630988

How old IS that English? It looks like German to me, especially 'sind,' which means 'are' in German.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Wesley630988

BTW, I just got a great idea! An Old English course!

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/RobertColumbia

I have studied Middle English (ca. 1400) and it is VERY similar to Dutch and Low German, both in vocabulary and grammar. Take a look at Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - in the prologue he speaks about "holt and heath" (Holt en Heide). Heath is still somewhat common in English, but "holt" has long been replaced by "forest".

April 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/DiegoJaviUnlam

Sorry Selma, but I had to share this. This is my favorite! ^_^

"To be, or not to be, I there's the point". (Shakespeare, 1603)

Also I think the pronunciation is pretty confusing. But I love challenges. And, I would like that some day Duo can set the audio to learn other version of English voice, for example Australian English.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Stelliger

English is a weird, but really practical language. :P

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/rhythmixed

As I learn German, I spend a bit more time thinking about English syntax and I find myself pointing out direct objects in sentences and thinking about verb conjugations in different tenses and I realize how complex English is and how grateful I am that it's my first language.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/KateBeliveau

Yeah, it is kinda weird.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/CodyORB

I never noticed that.

It's very similar to the subjunctive use of were, like when you say "If I were a cat, I would meow", instead of "If I was a cat, I would meow". I find it confusing, even as a native, or if I wasn't/weren't a native.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/zaqsert

That's the subjunctive. "Were" is correct there.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/CodyORB

Thanks for reminding me. I was thinking that but chose not to specify that it was subjuntive because I thought I was wrong.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

In colloquial speech, "If I was a cat..." is also acceptable. Yes, the subjunctive is lost for most people, but the world moves on.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/MasterZsword

Funny... I'm a native English speaker and I have never said that. But, I do find it strange when people say "weren't you" (I say that, but I never realized how strange it was).

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Bersalon

Actually, weren't you makes sense, since 'were' is the word you would use when referring to someone else.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/MasterZsword

Oh, I see.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/navivid

I can see how it could be super confusing to an English learner haha

Though it does sound weird when you split the words apart sometimes ((like "why can not you come")).... You can say "I can't." You can then say "Why can't you?" I'd say splitting it up would be "Why can you not" but that's obvious for English speakers I guess

Maybe thinking of them as their own words instead of combined???

BUT I have never heard nor will I ever say "Isn't you?" haha that would be "Aren't you?", or "Are you not?", yes? : )

Maybe people are just taking it too literally, it doesn't mean the words uncombined will make sense all the time, like I said above "Why can not you" is just "Why can you not", you know??

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/ThomasBU

English is hard Spelling,punctuation, so on so forth Call me weird but I can not stop thinking about new ways to spell words. It's mental torture

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/gingerninja3148

Yes English can be very strange! I am a native speaker but I still mess up a lot. Also I agree that learning other languages has led to me understanding English better. This also means I notice strange things about it.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/FazendaLondrina

I suspect it became used because Amn't I is a very difficult contraction to say, although I'm sure I have heard it as a regional variation.

Saying isn't you is as easy as saying aren't you. So in that sense, it is not the same.

I am like you, I am picking apart the English language and I find it interesting. In London some people say wasn't you and You was, which I hate, but actually it makes a lot of sense because WAS is used for singular and WERE for plural.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/MeleeNess23

English itself is just a mess, but I guess that's to be expected when the language itself is basically an amalgamation of German, Latin, French, Greek and more.

Here is a poem showing how messy English is: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1edPxKqiptw

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

English really isn't that much messier than other languages. The biggest "mess" is just etymology of our lexicon, and thus orthographic spelling oddities...since orthography does not play a part in actual grammatical concepts like syntax, semantics, phonology, morphology, etc...a big part of that "mess" is rendered insignificant.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/BastouXII

There's plenty of "mess" in its grammar as well, and it has two combined causes : the various origins of modern English, that influenced both grammar and vocabulary, as pointed out by MeleeNess23; and the fact that it has no governing body that regulates what parts of common usage become rule and what stays wrong, no matter how many people get it wrong. So if enough people make a grammar mistake, that mistake then becomes accepted, and if enough people start saying it for long enough, the previous right way to say it may become obsolete and disappear. That's what's happening with "aren't I?", which is still considered informal speech register, for now, but it may very well become the only correct way to say it in the future.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

ooooohhh, you're lucky I have work to do and can't justify getting into a long rant about what is correct or not. I am 100% against the idea of any language "governing body", the very idea is stupid. language -evolves- independent of such governing bodies. Are you a Star Wars fan? "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers", except apply that to language and grammar.

In the study of linguistics, you know, the very science of language, it is commonly accepted that a "grammar" is a -description- of how a language is actually spoken, not a set of rules not to be broken. Language governing bodies are a useless waste of time and energy in the grand scheme of things. People like you attempt to drain the life out of language. What a pity.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

also, complex != messy. If we are going with complexity, then all languages are messy, as all languages have aspects to them that are complex in one form or another. So, the various origins of modern English, when it comes to actual grammar concerns like syntax or morphology and the like, have little to no bearing on the messiness. The way people speak, even when they speak in ways you don't like, are still systematic to a given set of rules, they just may not be the same set of rules as your precious Standard English.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/BastouXII

Woah there! Hold your horses! Tell me where exactly in my comment did you see any form of opinion about the subject? I explained why English was perceived as messy, and I even put it between quotes. I'm perfectly aware that language evolves through usage, whether there is a governing body or not.

Oh! And I only commented on English, other natural languages all have some kind of "mess" everywhere, that's the plight of a living natural language.

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/frankenstein724

This seems to be more of a response to my other comment. If so:

"the fact that it has no governing body that regulates what parts of common usage become rule and what stays wrong, no matter how many people get it wrong."

That is the very opinion that I disagree with, that there is something in language that can be wrong just because some governing body says so. Most people who would mention such a thing tend to believe such a thing. If you don't, then I apologize. I believe firmly in something being "well formed" or not "well formed" for a given dialect or variety of a language, but I wholly reject that there is one proper way to speak any language.

Also, the fact that you consider language evolution a "plight".

June 2, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/_-C1-_

That is really weird, and even weirder, perhaps, I've never even thought of it before!!

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/susanstory

Where I live, I never hear people saying "a'int" or "amn't". People would say "aren't I?" or "was I?" People would say "isn't he/she? aren't they? aren't you? "isn't I?" is not grammatically correct.

When I was a kid in school, the teacher told the children to not say "a'int". It was kind of confusing to me as a child and even to other children what to say, so we'd say "aren't I?" because of being forbidden to say "a'int" by the teacher and "amn't" or "am I not?" seems weird and stupid, so I think I just copied other kids and people who used "aren't I?"

My dad, who was born in 1902, was taught in school to say "You was". I was taught to say "you were". When I corrected my dad, he still insisted that I was wrong and he was right.

I also used to correct his spelling, such as two "c's" in "across" but he was taught to spell it like that in school and he always told me that I was wrong and he was right.

June 1, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Deborah.la.Abeja

I've always liked this: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James D. Nicoll

June 2, 2016
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