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29 October 2014
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Page 3 of 3
"You just don't listen!"
Why do people say 'like' every other word?
Isn't 'innit' ungrammatical?

Isn't 'innit' ungrammatical?

Phrases like '...ain't it?', '...haven't they?' and '...wouldn't you?' that sit on the end of a statement are called 'tag questions' in linguistics. There's an almost infinite number of tag questions most people call on, varying by verb, tense, person and whether the tag is positive or negative.

For some people, 'innit' is just another tag question, a contraction of 'isn't it'. But kids in urban Britain are using 'innit' to cover a wider and wider range of situations. Here are some examples of non-standard use, gleaned from recent messageboard postings:

"We need to decide what to do about that now innit." (don't we?)

"Now I can start calling you that, INNIT!" (can't I?)

"I can see where my REAL friends are, elsewhere innit!!" (aren't they?)

"I'll show young Miss Hanna round to all the shops, innit." (won't I?)

"I heard he was good in TNA when he was there so he can still wrestle good innit?" (can't he?)

But is 'innit' ungrammatical? Well, no. Although its use varies between different groups of speakers, each individual will have their own grammatical rules on when 'innit' can and can't be used.
"We need to decide what to do about that now innit."
For some, 'innit' is invariant - while others will use both invariant 'innit' and a range of other tag questions, depending on the situation.

Invariant tags are common in other languages: Spanish has '¿verdad?' and '¿no?', German has 'nicht wahr?' and the non-standard 'oder?' and French has 'n'est-ce pas?'

Invariant tags can also be heard in varieties of English spoken in Papua New Guinea, Singapore and South Africa. In fact, it's likely that the current use of 'innit' in the British Isles has spread from certain immigrant groups of speakers in London to some of the wider population.


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