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What's the closest translation of Russian "что ли" in a context like - Я вчера на выставке кое-кого встретила. - Марину, что ли? Thanks!

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    I think all the answers provided so far are correct. Here are some places I use "что ли". Are you done or what? Was it him? It was him, right? – M. Irvine May 28 '17 at 20:46
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Что ли expresses a guess. The closest general equivalent is "...or what?", but here, it probably shouldn't be translated at all. "Marina?"

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  • Exactly! The best translation of что ли here is the intonation placed on "Marina" as a one-word question. Additionally, raising the eyebrows and cocking one's head adds to the effect of confirming one's suspicions. You're good!!! – CocoPop Jan 4 '15 at 17:58
  • weeps bloody tears Nikolay, after all of your wonderful answers I've seen on this site, what's with the google-translated "or what"? – Kaworu Jan 5 '15 at 10:25
  • @Kaworu "Google-translated"? I didn't look it up anywhere. And I insist that n-1 times out of n, "or what" is the best translation. But not in this particular case, as I already said as well. – Nikolay Ershov Jan 5 '15 at 10:45
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    "or what" is closest to "или что"/"или как". "Are you coming, or what?" It's an inquiry with notable impatience. "We're going to be late! Are you coming, or what?" "Что ли" on the other hand is mostly an educated guess with a note of disinterest. "Догадайся, кого я встретила на выставке! Ляляля, три рубля!" - "Маринку, что ли? Ну-ну." Both examples are exaggerated to illustrate better. – Kaworu Jan 5 '15 at 11:05
  • @Kaworu You're overgeneralising (or rather, overspecifying) from those particular examples. Although now that I think of it, perhaps the original example is the rule rather than the exception — in other words, the go-to translation of что ли should be nothing at all. Still, it overlaps with or what more than with anything else. – Nikolay Ershov Jan 5 '15 at 12:09
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Not just a guess, abut also a surprise, sometimes a suspicion, or even dismissal of the other's point of view. So your example can be translated as: - "Like who? Marina?" - "And who might that someone be? Marina perhaps?" - "What, like, Marina?" etc.

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It's a particle, expressing a guess with some degree of uncertainty, similar to English "or what", "or something" etc.

- Я вчера на выставке кое-кого встретила. - Марину, что ли? / "Yesterday I met someone at the show". "Marina, or what"?

- В месяц он получал триста, что ли, рублей / "He made three hundred rubles a month, or something".

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It can be explained comparing: "Марину, наверное(perhaps)?"?, "Марину?" and "Марину, что ли?" First means "let me guess! my guess is based on context of my own information", second means: "I need to update my understanding of who you are talking about", and third adds to second "that is so complex or not interesting or that I always know".

So I could propose "Wasn't she?" - it should add some "cold".

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It's like in english, you would say: "is it?", "isn't it?", or "hasn't", etc.
For example: You were shopping yesterday. Weren't you?
In this case, "Weren't you?", means "Что ли?".

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If you use Google Translate, you will get: Yesterday I was at the show met someone . - Marina , or what? Thanks!

That is incorrect.

The correct translation would be: Was it Marina? Thanks!

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"Что ли" can express a guess (with high probability, when you're just making sure you're right), surprise (when you already suspect it might be so), or be used to keep the conversation flowing. So, the closest English structure would be question tags ("isn't it?"). It's also the same level of colloquial. Or you can make it even more colloquial, even to the point of making it technically grammatically wrong, it'd still be the same style.

"I met someone at the exhibition yesterday." - "Marina, was it?"

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  • What is conceptually wrong with my answer that earned me a downvote without explanation? – Kaworu Jan 9 '15 at 5:39
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In American English, you would answer with something like:

"Who, Tom?"

You might also say, "Tom? or Who?"

Lastly, some might say, "Not Tom!?"

Tom/Marina, whoever. Remember, the most important part of this statement is the intonation. We wouldn't use the "что ли" in this case, but we would change our pitch to express in English the same sentiment that "что ли" expresses in Russian.

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Must be Marina. Was it Marina? Marina, perhaps? No way! Marina? Whom? Marina?

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