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Tag questions
Rainy weather

Ahmad Nazri from Malaysia writes:

When should we use question tags:

have they?
/ has he?
did she?
/ does it? / do they?
are we?
/ is he?

Roger Woodham replies:

A tag question is a question we can add to the end of a statement.

The basic rules for forming the two-word tag questions are as follows:

* the subject in the statement matches the subject in the tag
* the auxiliary verb or verb to be in the statement matches the verb used in the tag
* if the statement is positive, the tag is usually negative and vice versa

Compare the following:

  • You've posted my letters, haven't you?

  • You won't forget to check my emails, will you?

  • You're sad that I'm going, aren't you?

  • You aren't going to cry when I leave, are you?

When present and past simple tenses appear in positive statements, normally no auxiliary verb is used, but we use the auxiliaries does, do or did in the tag. In negative statements in the present or past simple, the auxiliaries doesn't, don't or didn't are, of course, already present. Compare the following:

  • You play tennis on Thursdays usually, don't you?

  • And Jack plays with you, doesn't he?

  • You didn't play last Thursday, did you?

When we use the there is structure, there is reflected in the tag:

  • There's nothing wrong, is there?

  • There weren't any problems when you talked to Jack, were there?

Something / nobody /etc

When no one, somebody, something, etc is the subject in the statement, we use it in the tag to refer to something or nothing and they in the tag to refer to e.g. someone or nobody:

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

  • No one phoned, did they?

  • Somebody wanted to borrow Jack's bike, didn't they? Who was it?
      When to use tag questions

We use tag questions, Ahmad, to check information or to ask for agreement. If we use a rising intonation in the tag, we do not know or are not quite sure of the answer. If we use a falling intonation in the tag, we are seeking the agreement of the person we are talking to.

We can reply to tag questions either with simple yes/no answers (negative tags normally expect a yes answer and positive tags normally expect a no answer) or by using yes/no + auxiliary verb.

In these examples, use a rising intonation in the tag. It is a genuine question. You are not sure what the answer will be.

  • You haven't seen my tennis shoes, have you? ~ No, I'm sorry. I haven't.

  • I couldn't borrow yours by any chance, could I? ~ No. They wouldn't fit you.

In these examples, use a falling intonation in the tag. You are simply seeking agreement.

  • It's been a lovely day today, hasn't it? ~ Yes, it has. Gorgeous.

  • It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it? ~ Wonderful!

  • I thought Sue looking stunning in her wedding dress, didn't she? ~ Yes, she did. Absolutely stunning.

  • It's a shame the day is over, isn't it? ~ Yes, it is.

tag questions - special features

positive statement - positive tag

We sometimes use a positive tag with a positive statement when we want to express surprise or particular interest:

  • I shall be staying at my favourite hotel - the five-star hotel in Windsor. ~ Oh, you've stayed there before, have you?

  • And I'm having supper there with the Australian tennis ace, Lleyton Hewitt. ~ Oh, so you know Lleyton Hewitt, do you?

imperative sentences and let's

After imperatives, we sometimes add will you? or won't you? when we want people to follow our advice:

  • Don't stay there long, will you?

  • And do take care, won't you?

After let's we sometimes add shall we? when we are making a suggestion:

  • Let's have buttered scones with strawberry jam for tea, shall we?
      Omission of pronoun subject and auxiliary verb

In very informal speech, we sometimes leave out pronoun subjects, auxiliary verbs and verb to be in the statement. Compare the following:

  • Awful weather, isn't it? (= It's awful weather, isn't it?)

  • Keeping well, are you? (=You're keeping well, are you?)

  • Nobody at home, is there? (=There's nobody at home, is there?)

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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