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:
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.
*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.
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:
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:
Now we can look at some special cases with tag questions.
Tag Question Special Cases
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:
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:
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.
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:
Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:
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:
Some More Special Cases
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:
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?