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Why do people end sentences with “so”? What effect does it have on conversation?

so

Welcome to Part II of our discussion on the word so. Last week we explored the sentence-initial so, and today we’ll be looking at ending sentences with so—a phenomenon called “the dangling so.” Despite its widespread usage, this construction seems to irk people even more than the sentence-initial so; there’s even a Facebook group called “I Hate People Who End Sentences with ‘so…’”

Just to clarify, we’re not going to be discussing so used as an intensifying adverb, as in “I love her so.” That usage is not included in the concept of the dangling so. Instead, we’ll be exploring an emerging use of so, in which it is used as a conversational tool. When written out, the dangling so is often followed by ellipses, as if to suggest that a thought is continuing after the sentence ends.

In the episode of Lexicon Valley mentioned last week, the hosts conclude that the dangling so is used when there is a shared understanding. If someone ends a sentence with so, the speaker is making the assumption that the listener will understand what the speaker would say, had the speaker continued. Look at the following example:

Speaker 1: How was your date?
Speaker 2: Well, he didn’t show up, so…

In this example, Speaker 2 ends her sentence with so because even without verbalizing her thought, there is a tacit understanding that her evening did not go as planned. From the incomplete spoken information alone, Speaker 1 knows that the date did not go well, or in fact, happen at all.

An article in Crain’s Chicago Business looks at a subset of the dangling so; writer Lisa Bertagnoli suggests that sometimes when people end sentences with so, they’re bragging. “Unofficially, it has become a way to boast without outwardly bragging,” Bertagnoli writes. Linguist Betty Birner tells Bertagnoli,”‘So’ said with a downward, final-sounding pitch tells listeners they don’t have to respond, while and upward or rising pitch begs a response.” Often that response will be congratulatory, like “That’s great!”

Last week, Terry Gross interviewed writer/director/actor Lake Bell about her new film, In a World. Lake Bell uses the dangling so when talking about her accomplishments:

Bell: We won an Emmy last year and we got nominated again this year. So we’re really proud because it’s a little—it’s sort of this mini comedy family that we’ve been—we’ve taken this little web series that was a–that was actually the pilot for the web series which was five-minute episodes.
Gross: Right. Right.
Bell: And then it upgraded itself to Adult Swim at 11-minute episodes. So…

Here, Bell is boasting—in the most humble way—about the success of a web series. She could have continued her sentence, but Terry Gross and her listeners knew where she was going with that thought. Bell retains her humility by implying that she’s been very successful without having to say it forthright.

While many people find the dangling so to be grating and annoying, others find it to be a valuable conversational tool. In the examples above, it has helped people leave unpleasant, impolite or self-congratulatory statements unsaid, instead allowing them to tap into an unspoken and shared understanding. Perhaps sometimes leaving words unsaid can create a stronger bond between speakers.

Do you ever hear the dangling so? Do you use it yourself? What other ways can the dangling so be used in conversation? Have you heard it being used in languages other than English?

70 Comments

  1. leoperidot -  December 30, 2013 - 5:47 pm

    I have to confess, I use ‘so’ a lot more often than I should. I end lots of my sentences with ‘so … yeah’ especially when I’m talking to an answering machine. I never know when to hang up, so basically when I say what I want I just say ‘so, um, so, um [very long pause] so yeah.’ and then hang up as quick as I can. (I hate answering machines!!) I use the dangling ‘so’ as like a ‘so … yeah’ except replacing ‘yeah’ is a shrug/’them’s the breaks’ expression. I also say ‘so’ at the beginning of a lot of sentences. It’s a habit I really need to break but can’t seem to. I only use dangling so and ‘so … yeah’ when I speak or I’m writing dialogue in a story. Never when I’m writing narrative.

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  2. Tech Diva -  December 28, 2013 - 5:25 pm

    I am an humble computer teacher, therefore, not an expert on the English language. The disturbing use of “so” that I encounter most frequently is what I call “The Chandler SO”, which I named after Chandler Bing from Friends (USA). A few examples are: “I am SO not going to do that!” or “That is SO the biggest meal I have ever eaten.”

    Surely, this is not the correct way to use the word so. If I am wrong, please let me know, so I can stop obsessing. If I am correct, I would appreciate being directed to any articles or blog posts that have been written on this topic.

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  3. Lucy Ambler -  September 25, 2013 - 9:35 am

    Thank you! I found this article really helpful as it points out the positive reasons for ending a sentance in ‘so…(+ facial expression)’. Sadly I think this habit leads to laziness & implied understanding. While that may be appropriate in closer frieldships, I don’t think is in general conversation or with mild acqaintances. This habit has the ability to hinder people being understood & able to connect with what they experienced as well as how to express that. And we don’t need any more hindrances! :-(( However, I guess the habit of ending sentences in ‘so…’ helps reduce the amount of information we are overwhelmed with each day! ;-D.

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  4. Joe Bates -  September 11, 2013 - 10:18 am

    This is just another example of a fad that caught on, and now everybody who uses it looks stupid. Not only is it not correct, it interrupts, and starts over a thought that someone is responding to. It doesn’t matter I guess. A huge segment of us never learned to use or write the language anyway. So….

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  5. Lucy Kemnitzer -  September 9, 2013 - 8:54 pm

    I am not sure I have heard more than one or two “bragging” uses of final so. What I do hear is the final so being used to allude to the known (or implied) consequences of an action, a situation, or an event, sometimes humorously or ironically. As in “They tried to get all their apples into three bags, so” Or “they all had different ideas about how to proceed, so” or “I have this dog, so”

    I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I am pretty old, but I converse with younger people a lot. I’m in California but I think I picked up this usage online.

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  6. Rae -  September 3, 2013 - 5:28 am

    Yes, I have used the dangling “so” a couple of times. But then I try not to use to much. But I really do hate it when people answer questions or begin sentences with so. I know this one girl who when asked anything would answer with, ” yea, so..” In fact when asked for her name, she said, “Yea so my name is…!” I was livid!

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  7. Lady from the river -  August 30, 2013 - 7:21 am

    My Mother in law uses “so” at the start, in the middle and at the end of every phrase, in a five minutes conversation, she probably says it about 20 times. It means a lack of self esteem in her case, it rubs me much up the wrong way, and English is my 4th language!

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  8. Starving Artist -  August 29, 2013 - 8:03 pm

    Would it be fair to say that the dangling “so” is used as a hedge word?

    Also, I like Wolf’s observation about the condescending use—apparently the dangling “so” not only creates bonds, but breaks them too.

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  9. jonathan -  August 29, 2013 - 4:52 pm

    i dont get it so. of far out i said it

    Reply
  10. Vanessa -  August 29, 2013 - 4:35 pm

    I have the same situation as Holly Rust, except that I grew up in California. I use the dangling ‘so’ quite frequently, normally because my interlocutor and I clearly have an understanding of what I mean and there is no point in verbalizing the rest of the sentence – certainly not in order to brag.
    Example
    Friend: Why didn’t you show up to the party yesterday?
    Me: Well, I was feeling a bit sick and then I realized I had a dentist appointment at the same time as the party, so…
    There, see? No bragging. Just tacit understanding. :D

    Reply
  11. Aeryn Sommers -  August 29, 2013 - 1:18 pm

    Forgive me if my grammar, punctuation, or facts are incorrect as I am relying on my own limited knowledge.
    I mostly use so at the end of sentences. I also use it at the beginning to give someone the okay to initiate a conversation. For example, if my friend Devon and I are talking on the phone and all of a sudden there’s nothing to talk about, we’d most likely endure the awkward silence until I rudely hang up. Okay, not the best example… Instead of doing that, let’s say she said ‘so’ and trailed off. That kind of announces her discomfort with the situation and it would prompt me to say something or wait for her hopefully impending comment. It ultimately depends on the type of person they are and your knowledge of them. I find that well is being used frequently in the same context as so. For example, it’s used as a filler of silence and the starting of conversations. However, I find that well is not typically used to end sentences. I have no idea if it’s trending now or old news. Also, a lot of teens use ‘so yeah’ to end sentences, especially in response to a question.

    This isn’t really relevant or anything, but there is no friend named Devon. I only have like two friends and I’m barely in high school. That’s kind of sad… But anyways I’m mildly introverted, weird, uncool; I spend most of my free time either reading, writing, drawing, or on my phone (writing in notes or on Wattpad), so go figure.

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  12. Kate -  August 29, 2013 - 8:07 am

    It isn’t the end of a sentence. It’s an invitation for someone to pick it up where you left it dangling.

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  13. Dena -  August 28, 2013 - 7:58 pm

    The Irish “so” is just a short form of the longer “so it is”. “Lovely day out, so [it is].” “She’s a grand wee girl, so [she is].” “I could murder a cup of tea, so [I could].” “Traffic’s mad, so [it is].” “We had a grand time, so [we did].” You’ll hear the whole phrase in many parts of Ireland, so you will. It’s such a lovely, musical rhythm, so it is.

    I think in America, people who are not confident in what they are saying often use “so” to convey, “I think I’m done talking but I’m not really sure.” Confident speakers don’t use it.

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  14. Gemma -  August 28, 2013 - 1:39 pm

    I use so a lot when I’m explaining something. I think it occurs to me that further explanation isn’t necessary, because the listener has gotten what I mean, so ;)

    I think I say “so”, as in, “so….yeah. That’s right.” Like a confirmation of an explanation.

    For example, “To get to work without having to rush and get caught up in a fluster, it’s better to catch 2 trains before the one that gets you in on time. If the trains are late, it doesn’t matter because you have 20 minutes buffer time. So….”

    But it’s not good English, or at least I wouldn’t write that way. I’m conscious about how I explain things in formal settings.

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  15. L. A. DuBois -  August 28, 2013 - 12:49 pm

    I was amused by what HARSRISHTY said, and had to reply: I often use a dangling ‘so’ intentionally to convey awkwardness in addition to the situations/uses mentioned in the article.

    An additional use (which, I admit, probably isn’t a very good one) that I have for it is when I’m speaking, have reached the end of my thought, but have kept the momentum of my tone and speed while speaking. In such cases, I find a dangling ‘so’ to at least be a better alternative to a sentence that sounds more like its being abruptly cut off-

    I do have to note that what annoys me is people who insist on rigidly sticking to things as though they are immutable constants. Language evolves, and people like that Facebook group are being simplistic in their refusal to accept that. The only situation where people have any business disliking a new trend in language is when it either 1) is incorrect usage of an existing word, 2) fails to successfully convey any meaning (notice that this article points out several meanings that a dangling ‘so’ conveys – implicit is just as valid as explicit), or – though I could see arguments in favour of this one – 3) something already fills the role, especially if it is better at doing so.

    P.S. That was not a dangling ‘so’. I’ve noticed a lot of other people talking about just about every other case where a sentence ends in ‘so’ when the article specifically says that it isn’t about those.

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  16. Pedro -  August 28, 2013 - 10:29 am

    Just some additional comments to Thiago and David: I believe that the “sô” Thiago was referring is slang for “Senhor” (Mister) and not Senior. It is very common in spoken language, even as “Sô tor”, meaning “Senhor Doutor”, especially in Brazil, I would say. The “Uai” seems a interjection but is not common at all in Portugal. The Portuguese equivalent to the English “so” would be “então” that you can also use at the beginning or at the end of the sentences, although is not particularly correct.

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  17. Phillip Goss -  August 28, 2013 - 10:22 am

    I am currently watching a conversation, and there is a close-talker. The listener has moved about two feet since the conversation started. Do you think you could do an article about close-talking?

    Reply
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