Question Tag


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:








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


Look at these examples with positive statements:
 
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?

Look at these examples with negative statements:
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


are
n't
English,
are
you?
John


was
not
there,
was
he?

Some 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)
Here are some mixed examples:
  • But you don't really love her, do you?
  • This will work, won't it?
  • 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?
  • The weather's bad, isn't it?
  • You won't be late, will you?
  • Nobody knows, do they?
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?
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

A question tag is the "mini-question" at the end. A tag question is the whole sentence.
How do we answer a tag question? Often, we just say Yes or No. Sometimes we may repeat the tag and reverse it (..., do they? Yes, they do). Be very careful about answering tag questions. In some languages, an oposite 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.



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