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Question Tag

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QUESTION TAG

Question Tag

What are question tags?

It is a statement followed by a mini-question. We use tag questions to ask for confirmation. They mean something like: “Is that right?” or “Do you agree?” They are very common in English. Eg. You speak English, don’t you?

In general, question tags also called tag questions or question tails are used to elicit confirmation or affirmation for a statement from the person one is talking to.

This grammatical feature can sometimes provoke problems (especially for learners of English as a foreign language) as the question tag always has to be adapted to the previous part of the statement. This means it has to be grammatically in accordance with it.

Examples in English

Some examples of question tags in the English language are:

Positive tag
Negative tag
… do they? … don’t they?
… has she? … hasn’t she?
… are you? … aren’t you?
… will it? … won’t it?
… can we? … can’t we?

A tag question is a special construction in English. It is a statement followed by a mini-question. We use tag questions to ask for confirmation. They mean something like: “Is that right?” or “Do you agree?” They are very common in English.

The basic structure of a tag question is:

positive statement negative tag
Snow is white, isn’t it?
negative statement positive tag
You don’t like me, do you?

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

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
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?
They will help, wo n’t they?
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?
John was there, was n’t he?

Notice:

  • the use of do in the two coffee questions. Remember that in Present Simple, do is optional in positive statements (You like coffee/You do like coffee). But the do must appear in the tag. The same applies to Past Simple did.
  • in last two questions, no auxiliary for main verb be in Present Simple and Past Simple. The tag repeats the main verb.

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:

  • won’t is the contracted form of will not
  • the tag repeats the auxiliary verb, not the main verb. Except, of course, for the verb be in Present Simple and Past Simple.
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How are question tags formed in a sentence?

When it comes to the form of question tags, you need to pay attention that a personal pronoun (‘he, she, it, we’, etc.) instead of a noun is used in almost every case.

It has to refer to the subject of the sentence which is often a noun or the same personal pronoun. Similarly, the tense in the question tag cannot differ from the tense in the statement.

The following points demonstrate the forming in detail:

1. If an auxiliary verb (‘be, have, do’, etc.) or a modal verb (‘must, can, would’, etc.) appears in the statement, it has to be used in the tag question too. The main verb is not mentioned anymore:

The house you bought was built in 2003, wasn’t it?

The personal pronoun ‘it’ in the tag refers to the subject ‘the house’ of the corresponding sentence.

We have got a beautiful garden, haven’t we?

Here the personal pronoun ‘we’ is used in the tag question as well as in the subject.

The instructions must be followedmustn’t they?

Be careful: ‘must not’ has a special meaning and is not usually the negative version of ‘must’. Compare the difference in the use of ‘must & mustn’t’.

2. If there is only a main verb present in the statement and no auxiliary verb, the question tag is formed with ‘do’ (the tense has to be the same):

“Ingrid likes to do a lot of sports, doesn’t she?

present simple

“We spent too much money yesterday, didn’t we?

past simple

3. If the statement is a request, ‘will’ or ‘would’ are usually employed:

Pass me the sugar, would you?

Don’t be late, will you?

4. If the request includes ‘let’s’, ‘shall’ is the suitable question tag:

Let’s go shopping, shall we?

5. Whenever ‘there is, there are, there were’ for showing that something exists is used, ‘there’ needs to be applied in the question tag too:

There weren’t a lot of things left at the sale, were there?

Attention: If the statement includes the personal pronoun for the first person, the question tag is formed with “… aren’t I?”. In fact, this is against the general grammar rules as it actually needs to be “… am I not?”. However, in this form, that means not shortened, it is only used when something needs to be emphasized in particular. Therefore, the following version is more common:

    • I’m very lazy, aren’t I?

Question Tags In English: Useful Rules &Amp; Examples

Exceptions in Forming Question Tags

1. Statements with Negative Adverbs

The adverbs neverseldomhardlyrarely have a negative sense. We treat statements with these words like negative statements, so the question tag is normally positive.

Example:

  • We have never seen that, have we?

2. Statements begin with I’m

We use the verb form are/aren’t I when the subject is the first person singular.

Example:

  • I’m intelligent, aren’t I?

3. Statements begin with Let’s

We use shall we after sentences with Let’s.

Example:

  • Let’s take the next bus, shall we?
  • Let’s go home, shall we?

4. With Imperatives

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

Example:

  • Open the window, will you? (order – less polite)
  • Take a seat, won’t you? (invitation – polite)

5. With There … structure

When we use the there… structure, there is reflected in the tag.

Example:

  • There‘s nothing wrong, is there?
  • There weren’t any problems when you talked to Jack, were there?

6. Statements with Nobody/No one, Somebody/Someone, Everybody/Everyone as the subject

We use the pronoun they in question tags after statements with nobody/no one, somebody/someone, everybody/everyone as the subject.

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Example:

  • Somebody wanted to borrow Jack’s bike, didn’t they?

7. Statements with Nothing/Something/Everything as the subject

When the subject is nothing/something, we use it in the tag question.

Example:

  • Something happened at Jack’s house, didn’t it?

8. Statements with This

When the subject is this, we use it in the tag question.

Example:

  • This will work, won’t it?

Note:

We can use affirmative tag questions after affirmative sentences to express a reaction such as surprise or interest.

Example:

  • You’re moving to London, are you?

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
notes
Snow is white, isn’t it? Yes (it is). Answer is same in both cases – because snow is white! But notice change of stress when answerer does not agree with questioner.
Snow isn’t white, is it? Yes it is!
Snow is black, isn’t it? No it isn’t! Answer is 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

The sun is the centre of the solar system, isn’t it? Yes, it is.

Snow usually falls in Nigeria, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t!

Roses aren’t always red, are they? No, they aren’t.

The earth revolves round the sun, doesn’t it? Yes, it does.

The earth doesn’t rotate on its axis, does it? Yes, it does.

Nigerians don’t like football, do they? Yes, they do!

Eagles live underground, don’t they? No, they don’t!

Mercury isn’t liquid metal, is it? Yes, it is!

The consonant sounds in English aren’t 26, are they? No, they are not.

Humans should not live by bread alone, should they? No, they shouldn’t!

Tag Question Special Cases

Negative adverbs

The adverbs neverrarelyseldomhardlybarely 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?
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
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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
Take a seat, won’t you? polite invitation
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

Some more special cases

example
notes
am right, aren’t I? aren’t I (not amn’t I)
You have to go, don’t you? you (do) have to go…
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)

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?

Tag Questions Quiz

You can do this grammar quiz online or print it on paper. It tests what you learned on the Tag Questions page.

1. He’s still sleeping, ________

 is not he?
 isn’t he?
 wasn’t he?

2. You do go to school, ________

 do you?
 aren’t you?
 don’t you?

3. Let’s go for a walk, ________

 shall we?
 shan’t we?
 will we?

4. We won’t be late, ________

 won’t we?
 will we?
 are we?

5. Nobody called, ________

 do they?
 didn’t they?
 did they?

6. They will wash the car, ________

 will it?
 won’t they?
 wouldn’t they?

7. We must lock the doors, ________

 mustn’t they?
 shouldn’t we?
 mustn’t we?

8. I’m right, ________

 amn’t I?
 am not I?
 aren’t I?

9. So you bought a car, ________

 did you?
 haven’t you?
 weren’t you?

10. You wouldn’t like to invite my Dad, ________

 did you?
 would you?
 won’t you?

Correct answers:

1. isn’t he?

2. don’t you?

3. shall we?

4. will we?

5. did they?

6. won’t they?

7. mustn’t we?

8. aren’t I?

9. did you?

10. would you?

QUESTION TAGS TEST WITH ANSWERS

1. I’m late,  ………..?

2. They’re waiting, ………..?

3. He’s left, ……………….?

4. It works, ……………….?

5. I’ve finished, ……………..?

6. You like it, ……………….?

7. You can see him, ………..?

8. I’m not late, ………………?

9. He isn’t leaving, …………..?

10. He hasn’t finished, …………?

ANSWERS

1. I’m late, aren’t I?

2. They’re waiting, aren’t they?

3. He’s left, hasn’t he?

4. It works, doesn’t it?

5. I’ve finished, haven’t I?

6. You like it, don’t you?

7. You can see him, can’t you?

8. I’m not late, am I?

9. He isn’t leaving, is he?

10. He hasn’t finished, has he?

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