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I am really confused about this and wanted to share/learn.

I was talking with one of my Canadian friends with whom I would like to hang out, about a song and I wanted to say:

"What a good song is this!" (i don't know if it needs to end with "!" or "?")

But something within me said it's not a good usage of English, so I decided to say

"Isn't it a good song?"

and now I am stuck right at that point because none of the above sounded right.

Which way can I tell my friend that I liked this song and ask him if he liked it or not?

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    Combine them. What a good song is this! Isn't it? – Mistu4u Oct 1 '13 at 14:20
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    @MasterPJ, To tell you the truth, I left learning English Grammar very long time ago. So perhaps I mixed up. Let's wait and see what do the experts have to say here. – Mistu4u Oct 1 '13 at 14:45
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    @BerkerYüceer, It's okay. But the basic problem is you don't capitalize "I". Please do it consciously from the next time. :-) – Mistu4u Oct 1 '13 at 14:47
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    @Mistu4u You missed one ;) – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '13 at 14:48
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    @TylerJamesYoung, Ah! I got you. Seriously though, too many "i"s were there to be capitalized. So it is very human to leave one behind uncorrected. :-D – Mistu4u Oct 1 '13 at 14:54
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The format what a [positively/negatively-qualified] noun is/are + [pronoun] is hopelessly archaic. Native speakers are familiar with it from an early age, because it survives in nursery rhymes...

Little Jack Horner ... said "What a good boy am I!"

The same non-standard "verb + subject" order is also "mocked" by Yoda's grammar in Star Wars...

Strong is Vader ... Strong am I with the Force

In modern English they'd always be expressed as What a good boy I am!, Vader is strong, I am strong.


It's also worth noting that "Isn't it a good song?" would never be expanded to "Is not it a good song?". This particular contracted format (and the "tag question" version "It's a good song, isn't it?") are very common today, but if a native speaker had to avoid contractions, they'd switch the order to is it not?

The "verb + [pro]noun" reversal of "It's a good song, isn't it?" is standard for tag questions (or indeed, any question of the general form "Is it a good song?"), but it's no longer current in many other contexts.


I see OP's second alternative "Isn't it a good song?" as a reordering of "It's a good song, isn't it?". It's not likely to be a genuine question - almost certainly the speaker thinks it is a good song, and doesn't expect an answer in the negative.

Because of potential conflation with the rhetorical/tag question form, if the speaker really didn't know, and was asking whether the song was in fact "not good", he'd probably say "Is it not a good song?"

  • So you directly contradict with Tyler here who said in his answer- if you're going to include “is”, make sure it's at the end. Otherwise, it does sound halfway like a question, and comes off a little awkward. I personally thought this structure (the first two) can be used, but could not said strongly as I forgot most of the basic grammars. :-P Anyway +1 for this informative answer. – Mistu4u Oct 1 '13 at 16:42
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    @Mistu4u: Ooops! I got so distracted messing about with the "emphatic markup" syntax I got the two elements the wrong way round in my first line (corrected now). Actually, I'm not convinced my "Little Jack Horner" example even reflects standard usage centuries ago (it may just be used for the sake of rhyme). After all, even Little Red Riding Hood says "Grandmother! What big teeth you have" - although she herself may not be very old, she was speaking a long time ago. – FumbleFingers Oct 1 '13 at 17:25
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The closest statements to yours that sounds natural to me are:

What a good song this is!

  • This would be an very emphatic statement of approval. I think it would be even more common to hear “What a good song!” or “This is (such) a good song!”
  • Either way, if you're going to include both “this” and “is” in a statement, make sure they're in that order (“What a good song this is!” or “This is a good song!”). Otherwise, it will sound halfway like a question (or at best an archaic way of phrasing a statement).
  • It would be more natural for me (a yank) to hear “don't you think?” appended to a statement to invite agreement, but while I was in the UK, I heard a lot of “isn't it?” (or, really, “innit?”) even when there wasn't really an it mentioned. (c.f.: “innit” on ELU). Your Canadian friend would perhaps also be familiar with “eh?” used this way, but definitely read this Wikipedia entry before using it.

and

Isn't this a good song?

  • ...if the song is playing, or “Isn't that a good song?” if you're discussing it later.
  • Since this is a question (leaving your own opinion implied in the fact that you're asking it in this way), it should be ordered “is(n't)...this(/that/it)”.

Depending on the context, most native speakers would probably cast aside such formal grammar and simply say:

Good song!

or, if you wish to “ascertain the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed”:

Good song, eh? (...yeah? ...no?)

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    Isn't this a good answer! (You can utter this one as a question or an exclamation, though the stressed parts may be different. I usually hear it as: Isn't this a good song? but: Isn't this a good answer!) – J.R. Oct 1 '13 at 15:28
  • @TylerJamesYoung very good explanation. I wish.. I could accept more than one answer. +1 – Berker Yüceer Oct 2 '13 at 6:37
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    @BerkerYüceer Fear not, I happen to agree with your selection! FumbleFingers has employed facts and references, whereas I have attempted to make categorical statements from mere experience and cursory investigation. I'm glad to hear both tacks were of some service to you. – Tyler James Young Oct 2 '13 at 7:07

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