I've just realized, for the nth time, that after someone says

...I'm past it

the interlocutor replies

You are?

I hope I'm right in saying that this is, strictly speaking, wrong, as the question should have verb and subject reversed:

Are you?

However I notice that in many spoken contexts the former is used.

My question is, given the two forms are exactly the same length, and take roughly the same time to be pronounced, why is the latter used at all? I mean, isn't having this two forms just redundant (beside the latter being wrong)?

From a non-native english speaker who's been living in UK for barely a year, I'm still far from being able to make any hypothesis on the reason why the You are? might have found it's place in the spoken language against the same-lengh, correct form Are you?.

  • 1
    It might help you to take note of the intonation in contexts such as a response to an assertion. For example, after being told You're stupid, someone might respond with Am I? OR I am? We can argue about whether either response really is a "question" (and maybe whether the written version should be punctuated with a question mark or an exclamation mark), but the key point is it's the same "rising intonation" (and exaggerated stress) that marks the response out as "questioning, challenging, refuting". Without that intonation (but with stress) it's emphatic agreement. Jan 11, 2020 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


The expression you are? isn't really a question.

It's generally a response to a statement that acknowledges what somebody has said without either confirming or denying it. The response really just prompts the person to elaborate, for example:

John: I seem to be losing my hair!
Mary: You are?
John: Yes, I'm definitely starting to go bald.

Peter: I'm planning to go to Italy next month.
Travel agent: You are?
Peter: Yes, how much are return flights to Rome.

The expression are you?, on the other hand, can be either a real question or a prompt just like you are? It depends on the context and the emphasis.

John: I am hoping to run a marathon next month.
Mary: Are you? You don't look very fit to me.
(Here Mary questions John's statement)

Peter: I'm going to the classical music concert this evening.
James: Are you? You lucky man. I wasn't able to get tickets.
(Here James is merely reacting to Peter's statement, not really asking a question).

It's much the same as an exclamation such as well, wow or indeed, which serves to acknowledge what Peter has said, not to question it.

As to why both forms are used; it's just the way people speak.

  • Well put. It is said that clauses perform speech acts. All sorts of clause types may be used to ask questions or utter exclamations, as well as make statements, or issue directives.
    – user3395
    Jan 11, 2020 at 17:18

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