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He must be rich, ....... he?

Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 1:23 am
by Metamorfose
Taken from another forum. What is the tag for the given sentence?

He must be rich, __________ he?

Is it can't? Any other (formal) alternative?



Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 2:28 pm
by fluffyhamster
How could it be can't? Surely the only acceptable standard choice is must'nt or must, or some sort of lexical tag (right etc).

Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 4:40 pm
by Metamorfose
Hey Fluffy..even when it's logical conclusion/deduction.

You must be tired (after working all day long).
You can't be tired (you slept for 8 hours and have just woken up). ... b/post.htm

There I came across: you must be tired, aren't you?


Posted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:12 pm
by Maciek
"He must be rich" is our logical assumption, based probably on somebody's observation, and therefore "isn't he?" is to me the ideal question tag to this particular sentence.

Posted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 1:05 am
by fluffyhamster
Hmm, I'm not sure where you guys are getting your rules from. I mean, about the only snippet I could find on anything like this (in grammars published in English-speaking countries and aimed at native-speaker teachers), and that made any sense at all to me, was this:
Leech, on page 79 & 95 in his [i]Meaning and the English Verb[/i], Third edition, wrote:MUST: 117 C. LOGICAL NECESSITY/reasonable assumption (common) This use of must normally has no negative or question from; but see section 137b.

137b. [Regarding auxiliary negation - FH] Must not (='logical necessity') has a dubious status in BrE, but seems to be gaining ground, particularly in AmE. Notice the logical equivalence of must not in this sense and can't (='impossibility'): She must not be on campus today is virtually equivalent to She can't be on campus today. Less problematic in BrE is the use of the contracted form mustn't in tag questions following must in the 'logical necessity' sense: They must have hundreds of people looking for jobs, mustn't they?
Anyway, perhaps the answer to "your" question José is that those two people over on (ooh and maybe now Maciek too LOL :wink: :) ) are maybe a bit confused and/or too rule-bound (they're non-native speakers, right?), because for a supposed pair of grammatically closely-related clauses (in a genuine tag question structure at any rate, and bear in mind that some grammars call tags clause tags!) to be the same propositionally, they surely have to contain matching auxiliaries. And I don't see (contrary to what Rafaelinrio is suggesting) what would be wrong epistemically-speaking with You must be a teacher, mustn't you/You have to be a teacher, don't you (tag has falling intonation in each case) - imagine a game show where people are guessing and forming suppositions about the professions of mystery guests. (That's not to say that using 'must' and certainly not 'have to' in this way will make the speaker's reasoning always sound "considered" or "open" enough - these modals are a bit "strong" compared to other ways of expressing the modality e.g. You're probably...). Certainly as a native speaker I'd definitely prefer to say either of those sentences than Rafael's "alternative" (IMHO*)He must be a teacher, isn't he? And did you spot the 'Question tag for "It must be a cat, _____...' related discussions link on the page you gave, José? (Here it is just in case: ... r/post.htm ). That seems to have a lot more native-speaker input on it and contain far sounder advice and examples, IMHO.:wink:

That's not to say that questions containing auxiliaries differing to ones earlier in the sentence don't occur, but they are probably different enough from tags that we should really call them something else to avoid the confusion (how about non-tags, or NTs for short, in the meantime?).

Here are a few examples off the top of my head (italic is the example itself; underline shows timing and punctuation different to tag questions; bold is what I personally would prefer to say/stress):

1) You must be tired - oh, aren't you?/you aren't?

2) (in reply to your "Hey Fluffy...even when it's logical conclusion/deduction": The 'must' in 'You must be tired' can really ONLY be logical deduction/epistemic modality; that is, this is obviously NOT deontic/"obligational" modality we're talking about here). I mean, I've never seen anybody commanded to be tired - have you?, versus - but were you/have you been'? (Note in this particular example how the auxiliary in the NT can differ from that in the statement, DEPENDING ON THE MEANING ONE WANTS TO CONVEY, but that the subject of the NT is completely different in both cases).

Then there are Chineselindsay's and Rafaelinrio's remaining examples, which we could adapt along lines similar to the above:

*He must be a teacher, isn't he? > He must be a teacher - what/eh, isn't he?!
*He must fly a lot, doesn't he? > (I'll leave you to do this one!).

Ultimately, I have never read (or certainly don't recall ever reading) rules like the ones Rafael states (and remember that I own a LOT of grammar books!), which simply do not chime at all with my native intuitions:
when we use must with the idea of obligation we use mustn't to make the tag question
when we use must with the idea of assumption/deduction we use another auxiliary verb do make the tag qusetion such as to be or do/does.
You have worked a lot. You must be tired, aren't you?
She must be the new teacher, isn't she?
Finally, another factor that might be motivating certainly Chineselindsay's thinking is that Chinese speakers (well, at least Singaporeans speaking English/Singlish at any rate! Though I've noted that CL is apparently from Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the PRC!) seem to have quite a liking for the invariable tag is(n't) it?.

Posted: Fri May 27, 2011 12:53 am
by jotham
fluffyhamster wrote:How could it be can't? Surely the only acceptable standard choice is must'nt or must, or some sort of lexical tag (right etc).
"Must'nt he" is simply not a choice for most Americans, though it sounds grammatically okay to my ears, even if somewhat formal and stiff. I can't think of any other tag to respond with except to say "isn't he," which I think sounds perfectly normal in American parlance.
But I'm curious, does this really sound that strange to British ears? I wouldn't have thought so.

Posted: Fri May 27, 2011 6:15 am
by jotham
Let me back up on that. I was thinking about this and realized "isn't he" isn't exactly parallel. I suppose in the U.S., we wouldn't deign a "must" clause with a nifty little tag, maybe "don't you think so?"

Posted: Sat May 28, 2011 8:48 pm
by fluffyhamster
Well, I did write:
That's not to say that questions containing auxiliaries differing to ones earlier in the sentence don't occur, but they are probably different enough from tags that we should really call them something else to avoid the confusion (how about non-tags, or NTs for short, in the meantime?).

Here are a few examples...
I suppose one could call these NTs "self-corrections" of a sort, or at least "reformulations". I mean, why use a non-matching tag unless there is actually a good reason (and corresponding doubt/change of thought mid-utterance) to deviate from the whole basis of the proposition and related form of the statement preceding what would've been the usual/expected tag?

Posted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:15 pm
by GambateBingBangBOOM
This is the type of place where Canadians use eh (often changed to hey in the prairie provinces).

Posted: Mon Jun 13, 2011 12:01 am
by fluffyhamster
Hi GBBB! :) I'm quite a fan of eh, which I like to contrast with right? (latter best with a question mark, whilst I usually present the former without, to help convey its flattish-slightly falling, or sometimes exclamatory intonation [depending on the speaker's excitedness or personality] that "seeks confirmation of just-stated belief") whenever I teach (primarily lexical) tags. It's sometimes hard to tell quite what would be the appropriate tag though, because intonation is usually given scant regard or representation in any presentation of tags. But some contexts are familiar enough that we can reasonably confidently assign a particular lexical ("fixed/invariable-enough intonation"?) tag, or not: for example, You must be tired, ___ is probably be more suited to eh(!) than right? (, right? :D ), whilst statements with the strength of modal (and/or negative) force of You can't be tired (to return to an example that Metamorfose/José introduced) likely never have a tag (certainly, not a lexical one).

Posted: Sun Jul 24, 2011 9:45 pm
by LarryLatham
Hi All,

Just dropped in for a moment, as I occasionally do when I'm in the mood.

I'd say, gents, listen to your master, the fluffy one. I think he has his finger on the right elements, as usual. But I'll suggest one more thing: Does this sentence require or even suggest a tag? One might say: "He must be rich, don't you think?", but that would only indicate that the speaker is somewhat unsure of his own judgement of the subject's financial wherewithal. "He must....." involves a personal evaluation of the situation by the speaker, and then asserted by himself. A tag would simply invite comments, implying that he is perhaps not as sure as his original assertion would normally indicate. Perhaps the most likely sentence would simply be: "He must be rich."

A logical conclusion would more likely be indicated by, "He has to be rich." This is not a personal assertion, but rather a conclusion based on the facts as the speaker sees them. He does not personally insist the subject is rich ("He is rich because I say he is rich."), but rather states that the facts speak for themselves.


Larry Latham

Posted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 12:50 am
by steavemichaels
Is "he must be rich. musn't he?" not correct? It sounds wrong. Can musn't be changed to isn't? So, He must be rich, isn't he?