This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation
Learn It
Short answers and question tags
Pascal Tanyimboh from Denmark writes:
  My question is about agreeing with negative questions. For example: You say, 'I won't be coming'. I answer, 'Won't you?'
Do you then say: yes (if you're not coming) or no (if you're not coming)?
Roger Woodham replies:
Short questions and short answers
We normally answer with no if we are confirming negative questions and yes if we are in agreement with affirmative questions:
I'm not coming to the youth club tonight. ~ Aren't you? ~ No, I'm not.
I won't be moving in with Jane after all. ~ Won't you? ~ No, I won't.
I'm really enjoying myself here. ~ Are you? ~ Yes, I certainly am.
I'll write to you as soon as I get there. ~ Will you? ~ Yes, I will. I promise.
The purpose of short questions like these is to check the accuracy of the information that has been given, perhaps because we are surprised by it or have some doubts about it.
Note that we do not repeat all the information. The normal short question/short answer pattern is typically auxiliary verb + subject plus any additional words needed for emphasis:
I don't like any type of seafood. ~ Don't you? ~ No, I really don't.
I wouldn't ever wear such short skirts. ~ Wouldn't you? ~ No, I never would.
I'm going to sack all the staff and close the unit. ~ Are you really? ~ Yes, I am.
Also note that contracted forms are normal in negative short questions and answers, but cannot be used in the affirmative where stressed, non-contracted forms are needed.
Expressing disbelief
Note that to express disbelief we sometimes use a longer response and repeat everything we have heard. By using a rising intonation at the end, we 'echo' the information back and turn it into a question:
I'm going to sack all the staff and close the unit. ~ You're going to sack all the staff and close the unit? ~ That's what I intend to do, yes.
He broke his collarbone on purpose to get out of playing rugby. ~ He broke his collarbone on purpose to get out of playing rugby? ~ That's what he did!
Question tags
We also often use question tags to check information or to request agreement. With a positive statement we normally use a negative question tag. With a negative statement, we always use a positive tag.
If the main sentence contains an auxiliary verb or the non-auxiliary verb be, this is repeated in the question tag. If the main sentence has no auxiliary, the question tag is formed with do or did:
It's not very warm today, is it?
It's quite cold today, isn't it?
This beer hasn't been properly chilled, has it?
This beer's been out of the fridge too long, hasn't it?
She must've known the meeting had been postponed, mustn't she?
You like Kevin a lot, don't you?
But you're not too keen on Brian, are you?
He used to play for Arsenal, didn't he?
But he never played for England, did he?
Replying to question tags
If you are confirming a positive statement, you say yes. If you are disagreeing with a positive statement, you say no. In other words, it is the main sentence that you are responding to, not so much the tag:
She must've known the meeting had been postponed, mustn't she? ~ Yes she must've. I wrote to her myself.
You've completed the assignments I gave you last week, haven't you? ~ No, not yet. I'm sorry. I haven't.
Similarly, if you want to confirm a negative statement, you say no and if you want to disagree with a negative statement, you say yes.
You didn't know that Wendy married Brian after all, did you? ~ No, I didn't.
You didn't ever complete your MA, did you? ~ Yes, I did. I completed it when I was in India.
Young people having fun?

Noun-verb agreement

Situation, position, condition
  Third conditional
  Animal idioms
  no = not a / not any
  Learnit Archive