Grammar is confusing. We know that. That’s why we exist; to help you understand grammar in all its confusing forms.
One neat little thing we do in English grammar is create contractions: two words combined into one. For example, “isn’t”, which always represents the words “is” and “not” – doesn’t it?
Is It Correct to Say “Isn’t It?”
It is grammatically correct to say “isn’t it”. This is because we use the contraction “isn’t” in place of both “is not” and “is it not”. While “is not it” is an incorrect grammatical construction, “is it not it” is perfectly acceptable, even if it may sound a little clunky.
The construction “isn’t it” is used to mean “is that right” and is often a question tag, like below:
- It’s going to be bad, isn’t it?
The “isn’t it” has transformed a statement into a question. If we expand the contraction to its literal components, this would be:
- It’s going to be bad, is not it?
This doesn’t work as “is not it” is a negative declaration, not a question.
However, we also use “isn’t” to mean “is it not” because of the way that we construct questions.
In a statement, the subject of the sentence comes first, and the verb follows:
- The party is going to be bad.
“The party” is the subject and “is” and “to be” are the verbs.
If we want to negate this statement, we’ll add a “not” to it:
- The party is not going to be bad.
This can then be contracted to “isn’t”.
In a question, though, the verb comes first:
- Is the party not going to be bad?
This means that the verb “is” has now been separated from the “not” by the subject, so the contraction “isn’t” shouldn’t technically work anymore. However, in practice, “isn’t” used in this fashion and has been for a long time.
- Isn’t the party going to be bad?
While it might not make sense for “isn’t it” to work when you break it down, it does if we accept that “isn’t” doesn’t always stand precisely for “is not”.
What Does “Isn’t It” Mean?
“Isn’t it” is a confirming statement that checks or attests to whether a bit of information is correct. When “isn’t” is used in this context, it can be read as “is it not” rather than “is not”.
We can also use “isn’t it” to mean “is not it”, like in this example:
- I thought I’d found my calling, but this isn’t it.
- I thought I’d found my calling, but this is not it.
But when we’re using it as a question, it stands for “is it not”:
- This wedding is beautiful, isn’t it?
- This wedding is beautiful, is it not?
“Isn’t it” is a particularly useful little phrase known as a question tag. This means that you can “tag” it onto a statement to transform it into a question as we’ve done above.
We also use “isn’t it” to agree with another person:
- Person 1: This wedding is beautiful.
- Person 2: Isn’t it?
In this case, “isn’t it” still stands for “is it not”. It could also be a question or a statement depending on how you punctuate it, or on whether your intonation rises or falls if you are speaking.
How to Use “Isn’t It” in a Sentence
Now that we understand what “isn’t it” means, let’s look at some examples of how to use it in a sentence:
- The clouds look horrible; isn’t it supposed to be warm outside today?
- Isn’t it good that we don’t have to go to that terrible party anymore?
- It is good, isn’t it?
- Red velvet cake is your favorite, isn’t it?
One thing to keep in mind, when you’re using “isn’t it” as a question tag at the end of a statement, is that the subject and verb of a sentence must agree. For example:
- Incorrect: There is something you want to say, isn’t it?
This is incorrect because the “it” doesn’t align with the adverb “there”, which is being used to introduce the subject of the sentence, the “something”. The correct structure would be:
- Correct: There is something you want to say, isn’t there?
This applies in all cases. When the subject of the sentence is a person, the question must match their pronouns, i.e.:
- Correct: He’s breaking up with me, isn’t he?
Isn’t It vs. Is It Not
“Isn’t it” and “is it not” can actually mean the same thing.
Although we might first think of “isn’t” as a contraction of “is not”, it is also used as a contraction for “is it not”. This might seem a bit nonsensical, but it stems from the way that we construct questions in the English language, and we use “isn’t” in place of “is it not” every day without thinking about it!
This means that, when extended to its full form, “isn’t it” actually means “is it not it”. This sounds a little strange, which is probably why we don’t use it in its full form!
“Is it not” is simply a confirming statement that can be used as a question.
Though it’s smoother off the tongue than “is it not it”, it can’t compete with the even snappier “isn’t it”. As such, it’s not a phrase you hear much these days, and it sounds a bit antiquated and formal.
Let’s compare the two in some example sentences:
- Why is it not going to be a good party?
- Why isn’t it going to be a good party?
The meaning stays precisely the same! English is weird.
“Isn’t it” is a clarifying statement used to check or confirm whether a piece of information is correct. Functionally, it has the same meaning as the now outdated phrase “is it not”, despite the contraction “isn’t” literally representing “is not”.