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Do you say: Who is the last in the line?

As far as I remember I have seen some objections to this phrase on the part of native speakers of English. I don't remember what exactly they didn't like about it but they didn't like something.

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Are you a Spanish speaker? – Araucaria Jan 17 at 15:51
    
I am not Spanish. – user1425 Jan 17 at 17:08
    
Where are you from if you don't mind me asking? I'm just wondering if people commonly ask who the last in the line is in your country? (see my answer blow!) :) – Araucaria Jan 17 at 17:30
    
I speak Russian. – user1425 Jan 17 at 17:44
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интересно! In Russian do you normally ask who's the last in the queue? After you find out, do you have to physically sand in the queue? – Araucaria Jan 17 at 18:01

It's more common to talk about the line itself, rather than the people waiting in line. So you can use the following sentence.

Where is the end of the line?

--OR--

Could you tell me where the end of the line is?

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Good answer. Welcome to ELL! – DJ McMayhem Jan 17 at 14:17
    
I've heard it before. To me it is strange to call a person "the end of the line". But it's just because we say it differently in my first language. – user1425 Jan 17 at 16:56
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@user1425 The point is that you're not calling a person the end of the line. You're asking for a location (not a person): where the line (of people) ends. – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 at 18:17
    
Well, but a line consists of people, hence, you need a last person in a line. Even if you find the location, you are to stand behind a person not the location. Moreover, sometimes a last person may leave for a while and be out of the line's vicinity for some time. Anyway, that is interesting. It shows how a certain language shapes a certain way of thinking. In my language you must find out who a last person in a line is because the end of the line is a bit abstract notion without the last person of the line. – user1425 Jan 17 at 18:27
    
"It's better to talk about the line itself, rather than the people" - Why? Really, I'd like to know. In Russian, Polish, Czech and probably many more languages there is nothing like that, so if there is some cultural reason behind this, it might be worth telling here. – Mołot Jan 17 at 19:40

In many countries - for example in Spain - a queue at a bank, for instance, won't actually be a physical queue. In order to find out where you are in the queue, you ask people "Are you the last?". Someone will normally point you towards the person who is last in the queue. You then check with them. If they are indeed the last person in the queue, you know that you can go up to the counter after that person. At this point you become the last in the queue, and if anyone asks who's last, it's you. In the meantime you can wander about or sit down as you please.

In most English speaking countries the system for queuing doesn't work this way. If you aren't physically standing in the queue, you aren't in the queue at all! So if you leave the physical line of people and you don't ask someone to keep your physical place, you aren't in the queue any more and if you want to rejoin the queue, you have to go to the back of the line and start all over again. If you try to reinsert yourself in your old position, you may start an argument with the other queuers. For this reason we don't really have a fixed saying for asking who the last person in the queue is. However, if you just can't physically identify where the end of the physical queue is, you could just ask:

Are you the last in the queue?

Hope this is helpful.


Postscript

The Original Poster lives in Russia. The situation in Russian seems to be halfway between the two situations described above. Mostly you stand in the queue, but you can leave the physical line for a little bit. So knowing the 'last in the queue' is very important. This is User1425's comment. I haven't paraphrased it because I don't want to get any details wrong! It's quite interesting:

[W]e always ask "Who is the last?" It's a cliche. In practice, you physically stand in a line, however, people may want to step out of the line for a short time and you must remember which person is in front of you. There are 4 people in the line. Jack is the last person. He has left for 5 minutes. Tim comes and asks. "Who is last?" - He will be answered - "Jack!", even though Jack is out for the time being. The last person is of primary importance in Russian while the location of the end of the line is of secondary importance.

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This explains a lot about the question! – SevenSidedDie Jan 17 at 18:21
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This is very interesting. I had no idea! I once was waiting in a line in Puerto Rico, and someone asked me in Spanish if I were in the line. This is typical in the US, when it's not clear whether someone who is standing near a line is actually in it, such as in a grocery store at the deli counter. – BobRodes Jan 17 at 22:09

I think you're pretty close. The issue with that specific sentence is that you're mixing two options. You use "last" in one of two ways here:

Either

Who is the last person in line?

OR

Who is last in line?

You chose to mix the two in a way that is incorrect. Maybe this is why somebody had some objections to your phrase.

In practice, if I want to join the line, I typically look at the line and try to find the person who I think is last. Then I ask them if it's the correct line, and then if they're last. Here's a sample exchange:

Person A: Is this the line for the bathroom?
Person B: Yes, this is.
Person A: Are you last in line? OR Is this the end of the line?
Person B: No, I'm not. OR No, this isn't.
Person A: Where's the end of the line?
Person B: It's around the corner.
Person A: Okay, thanks!

This is just one sample interaction. But those are the general phrases that I use.

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What confuses me is that in your model (and I think it's a general model of all English speakers) we identify the end of the line with a person. For example - The end of the line is Jack. To me it sounds funny in the least. Another thing. Why do you say "to join the line" but "Are you last in line?" How come you don't use THE in "Are you last in line?" – user1425 Jan 17 at 16:55
    
Intriguing that you use the word 'line' consistently here. I would have used 'queue', as in 'Where is the end of the queue?'. – No'am Newman Jan 18 at 8:01
    
@No'amNewman Interesting! I would never use queue for that sort of thing. Queue, for me, doesn't apply much to people - but this word seems to vary a lot from region to region. Where did you learn your English? – Alex K Jan 18 at 22:03
    
@AlexK: I am a native English speaker. The computer concept 'queue' was taken from the natural example of people waiting in a queue. The concept 'stack' comes from dining rooms where plates were kept in a spring loaded stack: clean plates were pushed onto the stack and people would then take those plates. So the plates at the bottom were never touched. – No'am Newman Jan 19 at 5:51

There are several ways to enter a line (AmE) or queue (BrE)

If one is unsure a line exists, the question

Is there a line for ...?

can be asked.

When one is unsure where the line is, but is sure there is a line, one would look any number of people in the vicinity of the possible line and ask

Are you on line?
Are you waiting for ...?

Usually if the answer is yes, one would begin to trace back to the end of the line possibly asking

Are you the last in line?
Is this the end of the line?

to find where the end of the line is. Under most circumstances, the end of the line is obvious.

In the cases where there might be multiple lines forming, for example in a crowded bus terminal, one might ask

Is this the line for ...?

to ensure one does not wait in the wrong line.

Usually there is much gesturing and body language that goes into informing where the end of the line is, in particular the not uncommon exasperated glares from people already waiting trying to ensure their position.

The general question

Who's the last person in line?

is usually used by the person serving the line to find the end of the line and close the queue. It can also be used by someone wishing to join the line, but is used usually under duress.

In societies where queueing is a national tradition (read: Britain) the etiquette and rules involved are well known, clear cut, and enforced by the community as a whole.

As a cultural note:

Brits are taught to wait for their turn
Americans are taught to take their turn

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"to wait their turn" still sounds quite American. "to wait for their turn" might be more British-sounding. – Simon Jan 18 at 9:47

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