Wait, what?

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At some point in the recent past, after a few long and fuzzy quasi-days checking annotations for the DIHARD challenge, I found myself dozing off while re-reading a random e-book that turned out to be Charles Stross's Halting State, and was caught short by this sentence:

They call this place the Athens of the North — there’s got to be something you can do by yourself on a summer night, hasn’t there?

I thought to myself, "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?"

I admit that "there's got to be" is a reduced form of "There has got to be", so "hasn't there?" is the plausible tag. Likewise "That's got to be" is short for "That has got to be" — but my intuition strongly rejects

*That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?

This reaction is puzzling. As a question

Has that got to be wrong?

is a little off, but it's certainly better than

*Does that got to be wrong?

On the other hand, none of the negations work for me:

*That hasn't got to be wrong.
*That doesn't got to be wrong.
*That isn't got to be wrong.

Actually the vernacular

That don't got to be wrong.

feels better than any of the others, despite being obviously non-standard.

At this point I've strained my intuitions past the breaking point. Maybe catching up on sleep would help…






  1. Philip Taylor said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 5:41 pm

    For me, "That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?" feels perfectly natural; "*That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" feel terribly wrong, because there is no "do" (implied or otherwise) in the introductory statement. Could this be an <Am.E>/<Br.E> difference ?

  2. Rachael said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 5:47 pm

    I agree with Philip. The original excerpt and "That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?" both seem completely fine to me. (I'm also British)

  3. M said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 5:48 pm

    This has to be a British vs. US thing, doesn’t it?

  4. Paul Garrett said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 5:54 pm

    In my version of AmE, "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" sounds completely reasonable, and replacing "doesn't" by "hasn't" sounds ostentatiously UK-ish. :) Here I'm just referring to usage, not grammatical analysis.

  5. BillR said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:02 pm

    I’m with Paul on this, as a 60+ AmE speaker from Midwest by birth and northeast for last 40 years.

  6. Keith Ivey said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:02 pm

    To me, "doesn't it?" sounds better (I'm also American). It might be because "That's got to be wrong" is interchangeable with "That has to be wrong", and I wouldn't use "has" in a tag question if the main verb is "has", only when it's a modal. That is, I would not say "That has to be wrong, hasn't it?" or "He has a car, hasn't he?"

  7. Greg Ralph said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:09 pm

    Perfectly natural to me as an Australian too. The important thing is to read more Charles Stross.

  8. Terry Hunt said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:14 pm

    As a BrE speaker like Charlie Stross, his version seems both colloquially and grammatically correct to me. The full and ultra-correct version would presumably be:
    ". . . there has got to be something you can do by yourself on a summer night, has there not?", from which ". . . there's got to be [. . .] hasn't there?"
    uses the normal contractions (as Prof. Liberman admits above).

    Note that, though English, Charlie has been resident in Edinburgh (the said 'Athens of the North') for some years: there may therefore also be some Doric influence on his current style (as there was on mine after a similar several-year sojourn North of the Border).

  9. Jonathan Wright said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:14 pm

    I'm British too and 'That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?' sounds perfectly natural to me too. In fact I can't see any plausible alternative, except of course 'That has to be wrong, doesn't it?' or 'That must be wrong, mustn't it?' etc. 'That hasn't got to be wrong', which you mark as wrong, also sounds normal to me, as in 'You haven't got to do the washing-up by hand. There's a dishwasher' but 'You don't have/need to do…' seems preferable on grounds of economy.

  10. Rubrick said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:15 pm

    In concordance with previous commenters, "That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?" sounds reasonable but British to me. (I'm an AmE speaker.)

  11. Rupert said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

    Also a Southern English speaker now in Edinburgh here… and yes, Chas' use sounds spot on to me. If you wanted to use "doesn't", you'd go along the lines of "There does have to be something you can do on a summer night, doesn't there?"; mixing the has and does jars a little. Although I wouldn't by any means count it wrong, and the change in emphasis on the does variant gives it a mildly different effect.

    Introspectively, I'd say "a summer's night" or "a winter's night", but "a spring night" and "an autumn night", which is not something I've ever considered before. I have no idea why that's in the wiring.)

  12. Michael Watts said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 6:47 pm

    I mostly agree with Keith Ivey.

    I find "there's got to be something, hasn't there?" pretty normal. For "that's got to be wrong", I do find "…doesn't it?" preferable, but that would seem to pose no major syntactic problems, as tags, answers, and followups are often constructed from sentences that the speaker had in mind but didn't actually say. So "that's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" can be expanded as "that's got to be wrong. Doesn't it have to be wrong?", where "have" and "have got" are fully interchangeable.

  13. Martin Delson said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 8:25 pm

    Another (American) vote for "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" And for the tag on Charles Stross's sentence, I'd go with "There's got to be something you can do, doesn't there?"

  14. Theo Johnson-Freyd said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 8:33 pm

    I disagree with my fellow Americans. The obviously correct form is "That's got to be wrong, ain't it?". Similarly, "That ain't got to be wrong." and "Ain't that got to be wrong?" are perfectly acceptable to my ear.

    I'd also accept "isn't". In all cases, I think it is parallel with the "be", not the "that has".

  15. JPL said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

    You didn't say whether or not "That has got to be wrong, hasn't it?" is OK for you. (It's OK for me. "That hasn't got to be wrong " is also OK. (Cf. "It hasn't got to be that way", to which "has it?" seems to be an appropriate tag.)) I know your "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" is tongue in cheek, but "That gots to be wrong, don't it?" fills the bill. What about "That is got to be wrong, isn't it?"? (Not OK with me.) Could it be that "has"'s lack of salience in it's reduced form is influencing your intuition? Is it simply that, or maybe your intuition's got a mind of its own?

  16. rcalmy said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 8:56 pm

    I've reached the point where both alternatives sound equally wrong. I'm going to stop thinking about language for a few hours in hopes that my brain resets.

  17. Mike said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 8:58 pm

    American here. Maybe it's surprising, but the version that sounds best to me is "That's got to be wrong, isn't it?". Of course no one would say "That is got to be wrong, isn't it?" but contractions can do funny things in English.

  18. DaveK said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

    My instinct would be to say "There's got to be something you can do, isn't there?" The grammatically correct response to "there's got to be something you can do" is "there is" so wouldn't that carry over to to the tag?
    "Has got" here is like "must" –it's a verb of being for something that exists not as an established fact but as a logical necessity. Is that the subjunctive mood or something else?

  19. Mark Meckes said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 9:16 pm

    I'm a midwestern American. I think that I would say "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" but that I would write "… hasn't it?" and in reading the post, I saw nothing wrong with the Stross's "hasn't it" while Liberman's "doesn't it", in writing, made me do a double-take.

    The negation "That hasn't got to be wrong" sounds stilted to me, but not exactly wrong. I'd say (and write) "That doesn't have to be wrong" instead.

  20. Garrett Wollman said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 9:46 pm

    I find it interesting that BrE commenters above wouldn't accept ?"That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" given the well-known BrE predilection for the pro-verb "do" in other situations (where AmE would do without).

  21. Ross Presser said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 9:47 pm

    In normal speech I bet I would end up saying "There must be something I can do here. Right?" or "That must be wrong. Am I right?" and avoid the whole problem.

  22. Jonathon Owen said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 9:50 pm

    Perhaps "Is it is, or is it ain't wrong?"

  23. Rebecca Root said,

    February 2, 2018 @ 11:00 pm

    I'm another American midwesterner, and the original sounds perfectly natural – had to read carefully to see just what you were objecting to. But the "doesn't it?" tag also sounds fine.

    Perhaps related: It just now strikes me that I have a vague memory of my Mom or some other nearby adult railing against using "have got" when just "have" would do. It didn't stick at all, but maybe I've got some latent instinct that treats the main cause the same as "That has to be wrong" when it comes to tags.

  24. rosie said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 12:46 am

    I'm with Philip and Rachael. (And I'm British.)

    If you're not British, and "That has got … hasn't it" sounds British to you, does the main "That has got …" clause on its own sound British? For me, the anomaly lies there, with the use of "have got" instead of one use of "have", not with the tag; "hasn't it" is the only natural tag.

    What does this have (or, if you prefer, what has this got) to do with the pro-verb "do"? The "have" is an auxiliary verb, and therefore does not need a pro-verb "do" in any dialect. The question of whether a pro-verb "do" is needed arises not here, but with Jonathan's "That has to be wrong".

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 12:48 am

    Rebecca : we received much the same guidance at (British) primary school, and for me at least, it did stick — "Treat 'lot' and 'got' as if they were red-hot" (i.e., drop them whenever possible).

  26. Lance said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 1:58 am

    I'm normally skeptical of people who leap to geographic conclusions about dialect differences, but some casual websearching does seem to confirm an AmE vs. BrE distinction here. Searching for "that's got to * hasn't it" turns up a BBC radio presenter talking about Manchester United (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_City_F.C._supporters#Quotations) and a quote from cricketer Ian Botham (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/ian_botham_280768) and an article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/03/20-reasons-for-middle-aged-men-to-be-cheerful), whereas "that's got to * doesn't it" turns up only three hits, but two of them are American (and the third Australian, so take that as you will). Google Books shows a similar division (the "doesn't it" showing up in a "Miami Jones Florida Mystery" and "hasn't it" in a book by Richard Bryant-Jefferies and quotes like "Five year groups gives – a thousand pounds! That's got to help hasn't it?"–honestly, it's as if it's designed to be as stereotypical as possible).

  27. John Swindle said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 2:39 am

    As an American non-linguist I'd also say "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" The full version would be "That has got to be wrong, does it not (have to be wrong)?" Note that 'got' disappears. The word 'got' may be the key here. "Has to be wrong" and "has got to be wrong" mean the same thing, but you can only negate with "does not have to be wrong." "That doesn't get/got to be wrong" doesn't work, and neither does "has not to be wrong."

  28. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 4:44 am

    I'm more baffled by the non-seqitur – were the ancient Greeks particularly known for doing things alone??

    I can't see anything wrong with the tag, though – 'has got' sounds a bit alien to me, but the stressed 'HAS to be' which would be my preferred spoken version doesn't really come over in writing, so fine. But having introduced the verb with 'has', I don't see how you can negate it with 'does' – it just sounds silly.

  29. John Walden said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 6:35 am

    I'm sorry but my Brit ears can't be having "That has got to be wrong, doesn't it". It'd be fine without the 'got', so converting the 'has' into the main verb and employing 'doesn't' as the tagging auxiliary. But once you've got the 'got' you've got a kind of present perfect of 'get', haven't you? (See?) That 'got' isn't there for decoration, not in British English at any rate, to my mind.

    I'm guessing that 'have got' was once perhaps more for things acquired over a lifetime and 'have' for things one was born with: 'I have got a car, white hair, a pot belly' much like 'I have got old' but 'I have brown eyes, Welsh parents' and so on. AmE 'gotten' would play a part here, I'd imagine.

    Obviously the distinction no longer exists, that is unless 'That family has a lot of money' sounds slightly less nouveau riche than 'That family has got a lot of money'. You'd have to ask a lot of people what mental picture each sentence produced to get a sense of that.

    I'll admit that it's hard to fit 'I haven't a clue' into the scheme where main verb 'have' uses dummy 'do' like any simple tensed verb does, but 'have got' uses its 'have' in the same way as any compound tense would. 'We haven't time' should raise hackles. But it doesn't.

    'We haven't time, have we? or 'We haven't time, do we?' ?

  30. Philip Taylor said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 6:59 am

    John Walden : "AmE 'gotten' would play a part here, I'd imagine" . Indeed, but one does not even need to turn to <Am.E> — in British English we have the well-established idiom "ill-gotten gains", where "ill-gotten" = "unfairly acquired". Acquired, not born-with (=inherited), which is (I think) exactly your point.

  31. cliff arroyo said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 7:08 am

    AmE here and for me

    "there’s got to be something you can do by yourself on a summer night, hasn’t there?"

    is jarring and not euphonic, I find that isn't there and doesn't there both sound better, though neither really trips off the tongue.

    "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" sounds perfectly fine but isn't it also works and 'hasn't it' sounds… weird and stilted.

  32. Joyce Melton said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 8:22 am

    AmE: That's got to be wrong, ain't it?
    BrE: That's got to be wrong, idnit?

  33. Ray said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 9:22 am

    what we're hearing but not saying:

    "it seems there's got to be something you can do by yourself on a summer night, doesn't it?"

    "it seems that's got to be wrong, doesn't it?"

  34. Peter Erwin said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 9:40 am

    Curiously, as an American English speaker (from California), I find both "hasn't there/hasn't it" and "doesn't there/doesn't it" to be wrong in these contexts, though I'll admit the latter sounds slightly more plausible.

    In ordinary conversation, I'd probably express the sense of Charles Stross's question as "There's got to be something you can do, no?"

  35. Zizoz said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 9:54 am

    AmE, and I didn't notice anything grammatically odd about the original sentence. "Doesn't" seems more questionable, but I may be overthinking it.

  36. Vilinthril said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 10:06 am

    Non-native fluent speaker here: Both sound fine to me, though I vaguely prefer “hasn't it” on instinct.

  37. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 10:22 am

    To this American, both "hasn't it" and "doesn't it" sound all right in the original sentence.

    ("Ain't it" sounds a little strange, though I wouldn't be astonished to hear it. "Don't it" is what I'd expect from someone whose speech is that non-standard. But it's not as if I've lived everywhere in the U.S.)

  38. Robert Coren said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 11:05 am

    This American finds "…hasn't it" to be weird and "doesn't it" to be normal.

    Mark mentions not feeling with comfortable with "That hasn't got to be…' (and other negations with "has got"), and I'm inclined to agree. I wouldn't say it; I'd say "That doesn't have to be…", which is probably why the "doesn't it" flourishes work better for me.

  39. Bob Ladd said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 11:19 am

    I'm a day behind on Language Log, but my reaction (as a North American long resident in the UK) was the same as many of the commenters who responded early, namely that this has to be about Brit/Am differences.

    I'd be curious to know if there's a similar divide over another problematic tag question choice: We('d) better leave soon, —n't we?. Any takers?

  40. Bob Ladd said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 11:21 am

    Also, I definitely wondered about the same question raised by @Jen in Edinburgh.

  41. Philip Taylor said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 11:25 am

    Rob Ladd : "We('d) better leave soon, —n't we?. Any takers?"

    For me, "hadn't we ?", and at the moment I can't think of an alternative if "We('d)" is a contraction of "We had". If, on the other hand, "We('d)" = "We should", then "shouldn't we ?" would seem required. But "We should better leave soon" just does not feel idiomatic to me.

  42. Kyle MacDonald said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

    For an AmE/BrE edge case: I'm from southern Ontario, native English speaker. If relevant, I'm white and under 30.

    "That's got to be wrong, hasn't it?" looks right to me and sounds right when I say it out loud. To me, "That's got to be wrong, doesn't it?" looks wrong on the page and when I say it out loud, it sounds American. My first reaction, before reading the comments, was "Is this like 'whole 'nother'?"

  43. Scott P. said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 1:45 pm

    AmE here. "We'd better leave soon, shouldn't we?"

  44. rosie said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

    The mathematician John Littlewood wrote in his A Mathematician's Miscellany, of his daughter, "Ann was fond to use 'We'd better, better'd'nt [sic] we?'".

  45. Jason Merchant said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

    A related usage cropped up in Lee Child's "Night School" (2016), where Jack Reacher, ostensibly American, says something very British. From my Goodreads review of the book:

    Also, someone please hire an editor who knows American English and can correct for Child's occasional British English: Reacher sometimes says things that sound fine in British English, but strike the American ear as not quite native, e.g., "I'd like to say we've got all day, but I'm not sure about that. Maybe we haven't." (p. 291, where an American would probably prefer "Maybe we don't.")

  46. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 4:27 pm

    If you expect a contradiction in the form "No, there doesn't have to be something…" (more likely in NAm) then you would say "doesn't it?". If you expect "No, there hasn't got to be something…" (UK) then you would say "hasn't it?".

  47. david said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 5:09 pm

    AmE : I
    'm with Jen on this one. If I were self editing the sentences I would take out the 'got'. What does 'got' even mean in this context?

  48. Pflaumbaum said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

    FWIW mark me down as another BrE speaker who’s fine with “hasn’t there” here but finds “doesn’t there” anomalous, before quickly registering it as AmE.

  49. Roscoe said,

    February 3, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

    Joyce Melton:
    CanE: That’s got to be wrong, eh?

  50. Jimbino said,

    February 4, 2018 @ 12:01 am

    Here in Texas, we favor "That's gotta be wrong, don't it?"

  51. Robert Coren said,

    February 4, 2018 @ 10:54 am

    As to "We'd better…": Although it's more or less automatic to interpret 'd as had (and, in fact, "we had better" is fairly universal these days), I strongly suspect that it was originally would. (It would seem strange to me to reduce should to 'd.)

    That said, I can't imagine saying "We'd better leave now, wouldn't we?" I might say "shouldn't we", or maybe just "no?"

  52. Keith said,

    February 5, 2018 @ 8:34 am

    The rule seems be to negate the first verb.

    That is wrong, isn't it.
    That has to be wrong, hasn't it.

    So in "that's got to be wrong", where "that's got" is a contraction of "that has got", we come back to negating the verb to have.
    That's got to be wrong, hasn't it.

    I my British English, I'd say "No, there doesn't have to be something, does there?"

    In general, though, I think especially in the south of England, the constructions would be more like "is jus' wrong, innit" or "there aint noffink, innit".

  53. Philip Taylor said,

    February 5, 2018 @ 8:47 am

    Er, "in general" ?! That is surely tarring a whole region with a rather localised brush …

  54. Keith said,

    February 5, 2018 @ 10:00 am

    @Philip Taylor

    Tarring them with a very wide brush, I admit. Googling for "Estuary English, innit" finds plenty of hits, the first three (when I tried a couple of minutes ago) from 2006, 2017 and 2004.

    Speaking the Queen's English: Me 'ubby and I, innit | The Independent
    http://www.independent.co.uk › News › UK › This Britain
    Dec 3, 2006 – The Queen's very own English, as spoken in her public utterings, is moving gradually from the cut glass of St James's to the glottally-stopped banks of the Thames estuary, according to academics. A team of modern-day Professor Higginses have analysed the Queen's Christmas broadcasts and found that …

    Estuary English is smashin' and it is also correct | Register | The Times …
    Mar 18, 2017 – Beth's speech has elements of what's known as Estuary English, a form of the language (an accent with some dialectical forms, like innit? as a contraction of isn't it?) widely spoken in the southeast of England. To her critics, this isn't proper English. That's odd. My response is simple. Condemning the way …

    Estuary English taking over England | Antimoon Forum
    http://www.antimoon.com › Forum Archive › Best of 2004
    Oct 31, 2004 – 15 posts – ‎9 authors
    Yeah..it's Estuary innit…an' like it's takin' over …'specially in the sarf of England an' the Midlands an' not everyone's over the moon wiv it…. It's tough being an actor/actress! If you go to England and want to go native make sure you can understand Estuary, yeah? ;-)

  55. Philip Taylor said,

    February 5, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    Well, John Wells is (very sadly) no longer maintaining his Phonetic Blog, but interested readers might like to read his collected thoughts on the topic.

  56. BZ said,

    February 5, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

    None of the versions in the original post sound right to me. I'd say something like "right?" unless we go into non-standard ain't or some such. (immigrant to US from Russia)

  57. ===Dan said,

    February 6, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

    It seems to me the sentence is virtually equivalent to "That must be wrong." And the tag that goes with that, to my ear, would be "isn't it" rather than "mustn't it." The question at the end isn't about necessity, but about wrongness.

  58. Filter Fodder said,

    February 6, 2018 @ 8:19 pm

    Not a native speaker here, but probably more influenced by AmE.

    "Hasn't it" as a tag sound specifically perfective to me, which might be why it sounds strange with "has got", which is perfective syntax, but has pretty much lost all perfective semantics.

  59. dainichi said,

    February 6, 2018 @ 8:20 pm

    Not a native speaker here, but probably more influenced by AmE.

    "Hasn't it" as a tag sound specifically perfective to me, which might be why it sounds strange with "has got", which is perfective syntax, but has pretty much lost all perfective semantics.

  60. Fabien Lubais said,

    February 7, 2018 @ 4:20 am

    … has that not? :)

  61. Andrew Usher said,

    February 7, 2018 @ 7:25 pm

    If the phrasing were 'that must be wrong', I'd have to use 'right' (the closest to a generic tag in my American dialect) as neither "isn't it" not "mustn't it" sounds even grammatical. Admittedly "mustn't" is one of the contractions hardly used here (the others are shan't, mayn't, mightn't, oughtn't, daren't, and use(d)n't – needn't is still alive for me) and "must it not" would be a little better though stilted for the context.

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