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'.
The basic structure is:
|Snow is white,||isn't it?|
|You don't like me,||do you?|
Look at these examples with positive statements:
|positive statement [+]||negative tag [-]||notes:|
(same as subject)
|You||like||coffee,||do||n't||you?||You (do) like...|
|They||will||help,||wo||n't||they?||won't = will not|
|You||are||English,||are||n't||you?||no auxiliary for main verb be present & past|
Look at these examples with negative statements:
|negative statement [-]||positive tag [+]|
(same as subject)
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)|
- 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?
- 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?
IntonationWe 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:
|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|
Answers to tag questions
|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 imperativesSometimes 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 tagsAlthough 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.
- So you don't like my looks, don't you?
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