This passage is from my textbook:

We use have you? / isn't she? / do they? etc. to show interest in what somebody has said or to show surprise.

1): 'It rained every day during our holiday.' 'Did it? What a pity!'

2) 'Jim and Nora are getting married.' 'Are they? Really?'

As you see in those short statements of surprise the verb goes before the subject (Did it? Are they?) But in my real life experience I think I have always heard the subject before the verb (It did? They are?)

I can remember two situations:

'People are carnivores.' 'They are?' (conversation)

'George doesn't work, he is a bum. That's why he lives with us.' 'He does?' (Seinfeld show)

  • BrE: did they? (more common) vs. AmE: they did?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 23:23

1 Answer 1


"Are they?" is the standard question form. In a question, we normally begin the sentence with an interrogative word like "where" or "how", or "is" or "are" or "do" or "does".

"They are?" is an example of a declarative statement turned into a question by simply putting a question mark at the end. In speech, it is intoned as a question, i.e. you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This is often done with more complex sentences, too.

For example, "I'm leaving XYZ Corporation." "What? You're going to quit your job?"

The idea is that you put a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence to express surprise or disbelief in the statement.

  • 1
    Good answer! Another way to put it is "intonation overrides sentence structure". Even if a sentence is structured like a declarative, intonation can make it a question. And the question mark tells us what intonation to use when we read the sentence.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 20:13
  • Provide some clues how popular either way is, at least in your country? ("Are they?" and "They are?" etc. to express surprise.)
    – mosceo
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 16:11
  • Use "They are?" to indicate surprise or disbelief. Use "Are they?" for more matter-of-fact uses. Like, "I found a dime on the floor." "Oh, did you?" (Yawn.) Versus, "I found a hundred dollar bill on the floor." "You did?!"
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 15:51

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