Question Tags

What are question tags?

Question tags are short questions at the end of statements. We use them when we want to ask for agreement or confirmation.

Question Tags
via http://www.nashaamerica.com/blogi/education/item-1364/

Question tags are very common in spoken English. We use them in two different ways:

  1. confirm that something is true or not, or
  2. to encourage a reply from the person we are speaking to.

For example:

  • Tom: It’s a nice day, isn’t it? – In this example, the speaker is not asking a real question. (He already knows if it is a nice day or not!)
  • He is from France, isn’t he? – In this example, the speaker doesn’t really know where he comes from.

Intonation with question tags

When we are sure of the answer and we are simply encouraging a response, the intonation in the question tag goes down:

  • Sally: You like pizza, don’t you?

If Sally is sure that the other person likes pizza – perhaps she’s talking to a good friend – her intonation falls.

When we are not sure and want to check information, the intonation in the question tag goes up:

  • Sally: You like pizza, don’t you?

If Sally is not sure, her intonation rises. This is more similar to a real question.

Structure of question tags

A question tag consists of two elements: a statement itself and a short question (a tag).

Question Tags
via http://youreng.ru/question-tags/

Rules for using question tags

1. When the sentence is positive, the tag is usually negative:

  • It’s a nice day, isn’t it?
  • You like pizza, don’t you?

When the sentence is negative, the tag is usually positive:

  • He doesn’t speak Spanish, does he?
  • They didn’t go to the cinema, did they?

2. When the verb ‘to be’ is the main verb, we use it in the question tag:

  • It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?
  • You’re from China, aren’t you?

3. The verb in the statement should be the same tense as the verb in the tag:

  • You are a good singer, aren’t you?
  • You didn’t go to work yesterday, did you?
  • You have been to London, haven’t you?

4. Be careful when the sentence starts with ‘I am…’ because the tag is ‘aren’t I?’

  • I’m late, aren’t I?
  • I’m right, aren’t I?

5. If there is an auxiliary verb in the sentence, we use it in the question tag:

  • He doesn’t speak Spanish, does he?
  • They aren’t coming to the party, are they?
  • You have been to Australia, haven’t you?

6. If there is no auxiliary verb in the sentence, we use an appropriate form of ‘do’:

  • You like pizza, don’t you?
  • You watched TV last night, didn’t you?

7. If there is a modal verb in the sentence, we use it in the question tag:

  • He can ski, can’t he?
  • This shouldn’t take long, should it?

Here’s a good video from mmmEnglish explaining questions tags and their usage in our speech:

See also:

The Verb Be in Present Simple: Statements

Verbs: Overview

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