Tag questions are used at the end of a statement to confirm a thought. They are there to ask for confirmation or approval: “Do you agree with me?” or “Is this right?”.
Here is the basic structure of a Question Tag:
|+ Positive statement,||– Negative tag?|
|It is Sunday,||isn’t it?|
|– Negative statement,||+ Positive Tag?|
|You don’t believe that,||do you?|
See how the question tag repeats the auxiliary verb and changes it from a positive to a negative, or vice versa? It’s starting to make sense now, isn’t it?
Positive Tag Questions
Below, you will find a chart of tag questions with positive statements. Take your time reading the examples, and notice how often the auxiliary verb is repeated and changed into a negative tag.
|Positive Statement [+]||Negative Tag [-]|
|subject||auxiliary||main verb||auxiliary||not||personal pronoun
(same as subject)
In some of the examples the auxiliary verb “do” in the statement 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?” Hence, both examples work.
Negative Tag Questions
In the chart below, you will find tag questions with Negative statements. Negative verbs within the statements are changed to positive tags, so keep that in mind as you read the examples.
|subject||auxiliary||main verb||auxiliary||personal pronoun
(same as subject)
Did you notice how the auxiliary verb was repeated in the tag most of the time, instead of the main verb? This is how it is used unless the example used the verb “be” in present simple and past simple.
How To Answer Tag Questions
The easiest way to answer a tag question clearly is by repeating the tag, and reversing it. For example, You don’t know them, do you? Yes, I do. It is possible to answer a tag question with a simple Yes or No, but that can cause confusion, especially when communicating with ESL or non-native English speakers. This is because in many languages, the opposite answering system is used.
When you’re answering a tag question, make sure that your answer is based on factual truth, rather than the question.
For our chart below, let’s use the example “Water is wet”.
|Tag Question||Correct Answer|
|Water is wet, isn’t it?||Yes (it is).||The answer is the same in both cases – because water IS WET!|
|Water isn’t wet, is it?||Yes it is!||Notice the change of stress when the answerer does not agree with the questioner.|
|Water is dry, isn’t it?||No it isn’t!||The answer is the same in both cases – because water IS NOT DRY!|
|Water isn’t dry, is it?||No (it isn’t).|
In other languages, people might respond to a question tag like “Water isn’t dry, is it?” with a Yes. This is because they’re trying to show agreement (“Yes, water isn’t dry”), but in English this is the wrong response.
Below are a few more examples, with the correct responses:
- Orange juice is made from oranges, isn’t it? Yes, it is.
- Jupiter is bigger than the Earth, isn’t it? Yes.
- Gravity is just a rumour, isn’t it? No, it isn’t!
- Google isn’t a search engine, is it? Yes, it is!
- Zebras eat lions, don’t they? No, they don’t!
- Penguins don’t fly, do they? No.
- A sailboat doesn’t fly, does it? No, it doesn’t.
|Positive Statement treated as Negative Statement||Positive Tag|
|He could never return again,||could he?|
|She rarely shows up these days,||does she?|
|You hardly ever eat cake,||do you?|
|I barely had enough,||did I?|
|You could scarcely breathe,||could you?|
Special Case: Intonation
By changing the pitch of our voice, we can change the meaning of a phrase. Rising intonation causes statements to sound like questions, where as if the intonation falls, the statement sounds like it doesn’t require a real answer.
|You wouldn’t know where I placed my phone,||would you?||/ rising||Real question, requires an answer.|
|She’s beautiful,||isn’t she?||\ falling||Not a real question, does not require an answer.|
Special Case: Imperatives
Question tags can also contain imperatives (phrases that tell you to do something). Even though it is technically still a question, the sentence will remain an imperative sentence. As a result, it doesn’t require a direct answer. For invitations, we use the word won’t for orders we use the words can, can’t, will, and would.
|Imperative + Question tag||notes:|
|invitation||Try a bite, won’t you?||polite|
|order||Copy that, can you?||quite friendly|
|Copy that, can’t you?||quite friendly (some irritation?)|
|Hear me out, would you?||quite polite|
|Fix it now, will you.||less polite|
|Don’t break it, will you.||with negative imperatives only will is possible|
Special Case: Same-Way Tag Questions
As we have recently discussed, the basic structure of tag questions is positive-negative or negative-positive. Though this is the most common tag question structure, it is occasionally possible to have a structure that is either positive-positive or negative-negative. This is referred to as Same-Way structure.
We do not use same-way structure to make actual questions; instead we use it to express feelings of surprise, anger, interest, etc etc.
Here are a few examples of positive-positive:
- So you’re moving, are you? That sounds lovely.
- He wants to buy a new car, does he? As if.
- You think you’re quite the funny guy, do you? Think again.
Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:
- So you don’t like my car, don’t you?
Special Case: Asking For Information Or Help
As you may have noticed, tag questions are often used to ask for assistance or information. Instead of bursting out with a question (“Where is the bathroom?” or “Do you know where the bathroom is?”) we can ask a tag question, starting with a negative statement. This is considered a kind way to start a conversation and request information. In our example, you would say “You wouldn’t know where the bathroom is, would you?”
Here are a few examples, to help you get the hang of things:
- You wouldn’t know how to get to main street, would you?
- You couldn’t lend me a hand, could you?
- You haven’t got time to talk, have you?
More Special Cases
|I am correct, aren’t I?||aren’t I (not amn’t I)|
|You have to eat, don’t you?||you (do) have to eat…|
|I have been talking, haven’t I?||use first auxiliary|
|Nothing showed up, did it?||treat statements with nothing, nobody etc like negative statements|
|Let’s leave, shall we?||let’s = let us|
|She’d better do it, hadn’t she?||she had better (no auxiliary)|
As you read through these examples, notice how the different context can affect the sound of the tag question. Ask yourself which of the following examples seem “normal” and which ones do not, and then ask yourself why.
- You don’t want this job, do you?
- This won’t work, will it?
- You sang it, did you?
- It couldn’t be helped, could it?
- You wouldn’t lie, would you?
- I’ll never know, will I?
- It’s flooding there, isn’t it?
- No one knows, do they?
- You think it’s horrid, do you?
- You like rain, don’t you?
- Be quiet, will you!
- She can’t go wrong, can she?
- It all ends well, doesn’t it?