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I made the observation that some English speakers end questions with "or " where I would expect "isn't it", "don't they" etc.

So instead of

This won't work, will it?
You don't like it, do you?
This doesn't feel right, does it?

they would say

This won't work, or?
You don't like it, or?
This doesn't feel right, or?

I made this observation mostly at my company which is located in Germany but has thousands of colleagues from all across the globe. Initially I thought this was related to wrong translation of the German idiom which in fact is "or?" if translated literally. But I noticed that in addition to Germans, also non-Germans and even some native English speakers (I remember an Australian person) use the trailing "or" which makes me wonder: Is this something that exists in English?


I want to clarify that it's literally "or?" and not a trailing off like "or...". It's used exactly like "isn't it" and exactly how I would say it in German which makes me wonder if this is something that may have spread across this particular group of people (employees of the compary) from wrong usage by Germans.

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    Your starting points are a bit off. It's "This won't work, will it? You don't like it, do you?" Commented Jan 30 at 14:27
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    It's possible to trail off during a question to suggest other options: "Can I get you a coffee, or...?" But this is usually unintentional on the part of the speaker, and I find all of your example sentences really unidiomatic.
    – YonKuma
    Commented Jan 30 at 14:30
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    @YosefBaskin: Lots of younger Brits get round that "verb form compatibility" in tag questions today by just using innit (isn't it, but never expecting an actual answer) in all contexts. Commented Jan 30 at 14:31
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    Would you explain the German idiom a bit more? The literal translation is "or?" but what is the actual translation? Groups of people tend to adopt the same language quirks. They might say "It's all blue" to mean the work hasn't been started yet because "blue" was how their spreadsheet represented that state, and then new people come in to the group and learn that's what "It's all blue" means and start using it even though the spreadsheet no longer exists. There is something like "or?" that exists in English, but it's hard to tell whether it has the same meaning in your context.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 31 at 15:53
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    @ColleenV What I mean is, if you want to convey what is stated in the first three sentences in German, the literal translation back to English would be the last three sentences.
    – musiKk
    Commented Feb 2 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

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Native speakers would say

This won't work, will it?

or

This will work, won't it?

and similar.

Maybe your English speakers have been so long in a German-speaking environment that they are subconsciously copying German usage? It's certainly not a normal usage in English.

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    I've seen this sort of usage before where someone makes an assertion and then softens it with "or..." or something similar to give someone the chance to disagree without being contentious. "I'm taking the last bagel, unless...?" My guess is this is the habit of this group to be polite in asserting something.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 30 at 20:55
  • Sorry, it was my mistake with the wrong examples. It's not relevant to the point I was trying to make. I fixed the examples. At least I hope I did.
    – musiKk
    Commented Jan 31 at 15:26
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I've heard plenty of this informally, though many of those who use it probably aren't that aware they're doing it.

It's equivalent to "or what?", a prompt for someone to either agree with a statement or correct it with an alternative:

"Is he trying to flirt with you or what?"

"Yeah, he definitely is."

"Do they just not know how movies work or what?"

"No, they're definitely making everyone mad on purpose."

"Am I supposed to click this or what?"

"Yeah, I have no idea."

(A "yeah" or "no" prefacing the answer may address the question, but may simply agree with the confusion being expressed. The distinction isn't always clear or important.)

The variant you described, where you just trail off, is usually written "or...?" While it does vaguely hint that you're thinking of actually describing one or more alternatives, rather than ending it tidily with an idiom, they're essentially interchangeable in all cases.

You'll notice all my examples are questions. Your examples can also work, if you interpret them as questions and read them with a rising intonation (with the "or" unstressed as if you were going to continue, and, if present, flat/falling intonation on the "what").

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  • I certainly recognize the "Is [apparently obvious fact] true, or what?" usage as described here. I'm just not used to hearing the last word discarded. Usually, it's given heavy emphasis in something like an envious Is he a lucky bastard, or what?" - and from my perspective, words that carry heavy stress aren't easily discarded. Perhaps I just need to get out more! :) Commented Jan 31 at 1:56
  • @FumbleFingers Oh no, I'd never agree with using "or...?" purely emphatically like that. Only when there's some actual uncertainty involved. I guess my claim that they're fully interchangeable was too strong, but I'll see if other opinions come in. Commented Jan 31 at 6:59
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    Well, there's no accounting for what people say. But the OP is a non-Anglophone for whom a literal translation of "or" matches some German idiom he's familiar with, so I can't help wondering if he's not misinterpreting a slurred "Huh?" (a well-established "minimal tag question" format in conversational English equivalent to "Eh?", "Ain't that true?", "Isn't it?",...). Commented Jan 31 at 11:19
  • @FumbleFingers That's a good point. Maybe you should write your own answer. Commented Jan 31 at 14:51
  • Well, several other people (including native Anglophones) claim they do recognize the usage. I can't really claim a native Anglophone is "mistaken" about how they use and understand their own language! Commented Jan 31 at 15:08

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