Why do people end sentences with “so”? What effect does it have on conversation?
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.
In Chinese, I guess there is sort of equivalent of dangling “so”. “所以…(嗯…)你也知道的” is often said to show mutual understanding without having to state something specifically.