What Are Question Tags?
You’re going away again, aren’t you?
He doesn’t like this food, does he?
They didn’t go to the party, did they?
Questions tags or tag questions (according to American grammarians) are short questions we add to the end of a sentence in order to turn a declarative statement into a question. They are common in spoken English and are often used to seek confirmation or to elicit a reply. Let’s look at some of the rules we have to follow when using these tags.
In order to form a question tag we need to first take a statement with an auxiliary verb (have, to be etc) and then use the same auxiliary in the question:
You have done lots of walking, haven’t you?
If there is no auxiliary verb then we use a form of “do” to make the question:
You work a lot, don’t you?
Positive / Negative
You may have noticed, the statements and question tags usually form opposite pairs. If we use a positive statement then we use a negative question tag. When used in this way, they are known as balanced tag questions:
You went to school, didn’t you?
He likes this, doesn’t he?
We need to go here, don’t we?
Likewise, if we use a negative statement then we need to use a positive question tag:
You don’t want to go there, do you?
She doesn’t play sports, does she?
They don’t need my help, do they?
Balanced / Unbalanced
As mentioned previously, when both statements and questions are opposite, they are known as balanced tag questions. We can however, use positive statements with positive questions and negative statements with negative questions. These are known as unbalanced tag questions. We can use these when we use “shall” to ask for a confirmation of a suggestion:
I’ll just leave then, shall I?
We can also use these in situations where we want to create a confrontational effect:
Oh, so you’re the best, are you?
The question tags need to agree with the tense of the statement. If the statement is in the past tense then we will use the past form in our tag (e.g. did / didn’t). If the statement is in the present tense then likewise we will need to use “do” / “does“. We can also use “will” to make a question about the future:
He didn’t like that, did he?
He doesn’t like that, does he?
He won’t like that, will he?
The intonation used when asking a question tag has a subtle change in meaning.
If we use rising intonation (our pitch goes up at the end of the sentence) then we are genuinely asking a question and want to know the answer:
It’s hot, isn’t it? ↗ (speaker doesn’t know if it’s hot or not)
On the other hand, if we use falling intonation (our pitch goes down at the end of the sentence) then we don’t really want an answer; we just want agreement with what we have said:
It’s hot, isn’t it? ↘ (speaker thinks it is hot and wants agreement)
As with many other parts of the language, there are exceptions to be found in this area too.
The tag question for “I am” statements is “aren’t I“:
I’m good at this, aren’t I?
There is some debate as to whether “Right?” is a question tag or not. Regardless of its categorization, we can use this in a similar way in spoken English. Be aware that this is quite informal:
So… I should keep studying, right?
Question Tags Quiz
Find out what you remember with the quiz below: