Tag Questions

Tag Questions

http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-questions-tag-positive.htm

You speak English, don’t you?

A tag question is a special construction in English. It is a statement followed by a mini-question. The whole sentence is a “tag question”, and the mini-question at the end is called a “question tag”.

A “tag” is something small that we add to something larger. For example, the little piece of cloth added to a shirt showing size or washing instructions is a tag.

We use tag questions at the end of statements to ask for confirmation. They mean something like: “Am I right?” or “Do you agree?” They are very common in English.

The basic structure is:

statement question tag
+
Positive statement,
-
negative tag?
Snow is white, isn’t it?
-
Negative statement,
+
positive tag?
You don’t like me, do you?

Notice that the question tag repeats the auxiliary verb (or main verb when be) from the statement and changes it to negative or positive.

A question tag is the “mini-question” at the end. A tag question is the whole sentence.

We will now look at positive statement tag questions.

 

 

 

Positive Statement Tag Questions

Look at these examples with positive statements. You will see that most of the time, the auxiliary verb from the positive statement is repeated in the tag and changed to negative.

positive statement [+] negative tag [-] notes:
subject auxiliary main verb   auxiliary not personal
pronoun
(same as subject)
 
You are coming,   are n’t you?  
We have finished,   have n’t we?  
You do like coffee, do n’t you?  
You   like coffee, do n’t you? You (do) like…*
They will help,   wo n’t they? won’t = will not
I can come,   can ‘t I?  
We must go,   must n’t we?  
He should try harder, should n’t he?  
You   are English, are n’t you? no auxiliary for main verb be present & past
John   was there, was n’t he?

*Note that in this example the auxiliary verb do in the statement – “You like coffee,” – is understood and not expressed because the tense is normal present simple. But the question tag uses the do auxiliary to make “don’t you?” It is also possible to say: “You do like coffee, don’t you?”

Let’s now look at negative statement tag questions.

Negative Statement Tag Questions

Look at these examples with negative statements. Notice that the negative verb in the original statement is changed to positive in the tag.

negative statement [-] positive tag [+]
subject auxiliary   main verb     auxiliary personal
pronoun
(same as subject)
It is n’t raining,     is it?
We have never seen   that, have we?
You do n’t like   coffee, do you?
They will not help,     will they?
They wo n’t report   us, will they?
I can never do   it right, can I?
We must n’t tell   her, must we?
He should n’t drive   so fast, should he?
You wo n’t be   late, will you?
You     are n’t English, are you?
John     was not there, was he?

 

Notice that in the tag, we repeat the auxiliary verb, not the main verb. Except, of course, for the verb be in present simple and past simple.

Now let’s look at how to answer tag questions.

Answering Tag Questions

How do we answer a tag question? Often, we just say Yes or No. Sometimes we may repeat the tag and reverse it (They don’t live here, do they? Yes, they do). Be very careful about answering tag questions. In some languages, an opposite system of answering is used, and non-native English speakers sometimes answer in the wrong way. This can lead to a lot of confusion!

Answer a tag question according to the truth of the situation. Your answer reflects the real facts, not (necessarily) the question.

For example, everyone knows that snow is white. Look at these questions, and the correct answers:

tag question correct answer    
Snow is white, isn’t it? Yes (it is). the answer is the same in both cases – because snow IS WHITE! but notice the change of stress when the answerer does not agree with the questioner
Snow isn’t white, is it? Yes it is!
Snow is black, isn’t it? No it isn’t! the answer is the same in both cases – because snow IS NOT BLACK!
Snow isn’t black, is it? No (it isn’t).

In some languages, people answer a question like “Snow isn’t black, is it?” with “Yes” (meaning “Yes, I agree with you”). This is the wrong answer in English!

Here are some more examples, with correct answers:

  • The moon goes round the earth, doesn’t it? Yes, it does.
  • The earth is bigger than the moon, isn’t it? Yes.
  • The earth is bigger than the sun, isn’t it? No, it isn’t!
  • Asian people don’t like rice, do they? Yes, they do!
  • Elephants live in Europe, don’t they? No, they don’t!
  • Men don’t have babies, do they? No.
  • The English alphabet doesn’t have 40 letters, does it? No, it doesn’t.

Now we can look at some special cases with tag questions.

Tag Question Special Cases

Negative Adverbs

The adverbs never, rarely, seldom, hardly, barely and scarcely have a negative sense. Even though they may be in a positive statement, the feeling of the statement is negative. We treat statements with these words like negative statements, so the question tag is normally positive. Look at these examples:

positive statement treated as negative statement positive tag
He never came again, did he?
She can rarely come these days, can she?
You hardly ever came late, did you?
I barely know you, do I?
You would scarcely expect her to know that, would you?

Intonation

We can change the meaning of a tag question with the musical pitch of our voice. With rising intonation, it sounds like a real question. But if our intonation falls, it sounds more like a statement that doesn’t require a real answer:

  intonation  
You don’t know where my wallet is, do you? / rising real question
It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it? \ falling not a real question

Imperatives

Sometimes we use question tags with imperatives (invitations, orders), but the sentence remains an imperative and does not require a direct answer. We use won’t for invitations. We use can, can’t, will, would for orders.

  imperative + question tag notes:
invitation Take a seat, won’t you? polite
order Help me, can you? quite friendly
Help me, can’t you? quite friendly (some irritation?)
Close the door, would you? quite polite
Do it now, will you. less polite
Don’t forget, will you. with negative imperatives only will is possible

Same-Way Tag Questions

Although the basic structure of tag questions is positive-negative or negative-positive, it is sometimes possible to use a positive-positive or negative-negative structure. We use same-way tag questions to express interest, surprise, anger etc, and not to make real questions.

Look at these positive-positive tag questions:

  • So you’re having a baby, are you? That’s wonderful!
  • She wants to marry him, does she? Some chance!
  • So you think that’s amusing, do you? Think again.

Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:

  • So you don’t like my looks, don’t you? (British English)

Asking For Information Or Help

Notice that we often use tag questions to ask for information or help, starting with a negative statement. This is quite a friendly/polite way of making a request. For example, instead of saying “Where is the police station?” (not very polite), or “Do you know where the police station is?” (slightly more polite), we could say: “You wouldn’t know where the police station is, would you?” Here are some more examples:

  • You don’t know of any good jobs, do you?
  • You couldn’t help me with my homework, could you?
  • You haven’t got $10 to lend me, have you?

Some More Special Cases

I am right, aren’t I? aren’t I (not amn’t I)
You have to go, don’t you? you (do) have to go…
I have been answering, haven’t I? use first auxiliary
Nothing came in the post, did it? treat statements with nothing, nobody etc like negative statements
Let’s go, shall we? let’s = let us
He‘d better do it, hadn’t he? he had better (no auxiliary)

Now we’ll look at some examples of tag questions of all types.

 

Mixed Examples of Tag Questions

Here is a list of examples of tag questions in different contexts. Notice that some are “normal” and others seem to break all the rules:

  • But you don’t really love her, do you?
  • This’ll work, won’t it?
  • Oh you think so, do you?
  • Well, I couldn’t help it, could I?
  • But you’ll tell me if she calls, won’t you?
  • We’d never have known, would we?
  • Oh you do, do you?
  • The weather’s bad, isn’t it?
  • You won’t be late, will you?
  • Nobody knows, do they?
  • You never come on time, do you?
  • You couldn’t help me, could you?
  • You think you’re clever, do you?
  • So you don’t think I can do it, don’t you? (British English)
  • Shut up, will you!
  • She can hardly love him after all that, can she?
  • Nothing will happen, will it?

Now, let’s check your understanding of tag questions, shall we?

Tag Questions Quiz

1- He’s still sleeping, is not he? isn’t he? wasn’t he?
correct  answer isn’t he?

2- You do go to school, do you? aren’t you? don’t you?
correct  answer don’t you?

3- Let’s go for a walk, shan’t we? will we? shall we?
correct  answer shall we?

4- We won’t be late, won’t we? will we? are we?
correct  answer will we?

5- Nobody called, do they? didn’t they? did they?
correct   answer did they?

6- They will wash the car, will it? won’t they? wouldn’t they?
correct  answer won’t they?

7- We must lock the doors, mustn’t they? shouldn’t we? mustn’t we?
correct   answer mustn’t we?

8- I’m correct, amn’t I? am not I? aren’t I?
correct  answer aren’t I?

9 – So you bought a car, did you? haven’t you? weren’t you? Congratulations!
correct   answer did you?

10- You wouldn’t want to invite my Dad, did you? would you? won’t you?
correct   answer would you?

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