Unit 28: Towards Advanced
Grammar, news, vocabulary and pronunciation
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Question Tags: Summary
Question tags are made of an auxiliary verb plus a pronoun, which go at the end of a sentence, either to ask for more information about something, or to confirm something which we believe is true. The auxiliary verb matches the tense of the main verb and the pronoun comes directly from the noun. Question tags can either have a rising or falling intonation depending if you want to genuinely ask for the answer or expect someone to agree with you. Finally, Question tags usually work in opposition. If the main sentence is affirmative, then the question tag is usually negative, so: You do live here, don’t you? and vice versa.
1. Negative or Limiting Adverbs
Sentences which use a negative or limiting adverbs (never, no, hardly, scarcely, little, etc.) are treated as negative by the question tag, even though their construction is positive. Therefore the question tag is positive.
WRONG: They never go on holiday, don’t they?
RIGHT: They never go on holiday, do they?
2. Indefinite Nouns
Sentences with indefinite nouns such as someone, anyone, no one and everyone, use they in the tag.
No one cares, do they?
Everyone left, didn’t they?
Someone's at the door, are they?
With other indefinite nouns such as something and everything, use it:
Everything is OK, isn’t it?
Nothing matters, does it?
Something smells bad, doesn't it?
Imperatives are commands, suggestions, offers, advice etc. They are constructed of the bare infinitive in the affirmative and use don't in the negative: Sit down! Don't sit there!
Imperatives don’t have a tense or use an auxiliary verb in the same way as other sentences do. To make a question tag with imperatives, we use won't you? although other modal verbs can be used, such as will, would, can, and could.
Sit down, won’t you?
Open the window, would you?
Don’t go outside, will you?
Keep quiet, won’t you?
Politeness and formality depend upon the choice of question tag and the tone of your voice, although can’t you can come across as quite impatient and annoyed:
Turn the TV down, can’t you?
4. Suggestions with Let's:
When making a suggestion, it is common to use let’s. Let’s stands for let us, for example: Let’s go to the cinema. When we use let’s in a question tag we always use shall we, regardless of whether let’s is affirmative or negative. So for example:
Let’s go to the cinema, shall we?
Let’s not go to the cinema, shall we?
5. Double positives
Double positives are possible. This is where the both the sentence and the question tag are positive, for example:
You're going to become a pilot, are you?
Double positives are common when people are reacting to news, repeating something they have just heard or reacting in an emotional way to something. For example:
You’re getting married, are you?
You've lost your wallet, have you?
If you start a sentence with I think, don’t use the question tag do/don't I. Make the question tag agree with the main information in the sentence. This does not apply in the second or third person.
I think it's a nice day, isn't it?
I don't think that's a good idea, is it?
You thought you'd be OK, did you? (second person)
He thinks he's going to university, does he? (third person)
However, in some situations, for example, when we're being sarcastic, we do make the tag agree with I think.
A: Yes, yes. Well done. I know you think you are so clever.
B: Oh! So, I think I'm clever, do I? Not at all.