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Formal French Expression
|Meaning||right? isn’t that so?|
|Literally||is it not?|
Usage notes: N’est-ce pas doesn’t mean much; it’s really just a tag question, something you tack onto the end of a statement in order to ask for confirmation. Unlike in English, where most tag questions repeat the verb from the sentence,* in French the verb doesn’t matter – n’est-ce pas is an all-purpose tag question found in formal and ironic speech.
|C’est joli, n’est-ce pas ?||It’s pretty, isn’t it?|
|Bonne idée, n’est-ce pas ?||(It’s a) Good idea, isn’t it?|
|Tu dois travailler ce matin, n’est-ce pas ?||You have to work this morning, don’t you?|
|Hélène est partie tôt, n’est-ce pas ?||Hélène left early, didn’t she?|
|Nous pouvons attendre, n’est-ce pas ?||We can wait, can’t we?|
N’est-ce pas is the inversion of ce n’est pas – "this is not."
* There are three English tag questions that don’t need a verb (right? no? innit?), but since they are informal, the best French translation of them is non ?
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Would a synonym for “isn’t it?” in English in this situation also be, “right?” For example could the first example be translated as, “It’s pretty, right?” Or would this usage be too informal with n’est-ce pas?
Register-wise, “right” is ok, but in your example, it sounds a bit odd to me, like the other person was doubtful and then you showed them and said, “it’s pretty, right?” to convince them.
Have lived in France for 7 years and have never heard a native French speaker use” n’est -ce pas”
Really? I only took a few years of high school French back in the 70s, and one of the few useful things I took away from that beautiful language was the phrase n’est-ce pas. For 40 years I have regretted not having such a useful end of sentence phrase conveying a hopeful, even wistful, hope that something wished for might actually be true. In American English I always thought the common taglines “isn’t it?” or “right?” didn’t mean quite the same thing but was more of a direct matter of fact question asking for mere confirmation of what was just said. Such as “You wanted another cop of coffee, right? as opposed to the more rhetorical “That was a beautiful song, nest-ce pas?”
But of course I have never actually spoken French, so my impression of the nuances of the language I briefly studied four decades ago are probably far wide of the mark, n’est-ce pas. 😉
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