Question tags: use
Question tags are grammatical forms where a declarative statement (one that makes a point) or an imperative sentence (one that gives a command) is turned, through use of a tag, into an interrogative sentence (one that asks a question). For example:
You didn't eat the cheese. (declarative)
You didn't eat the cheese, did you? (interrogative)
Please be quiet. (imperative)
Please be quiet, won't you? (interrogative)
Question tags are more likely to be used in spoken language than written. They can indicate politeness, be a request for consensus, add emphasis or demonstrate a watering down of an opinion. Although most question tags are genuine questions, some will be rhetorical and not require an answer. Sometimes the use of a question tag can be designed to influence a response from the listener.
Question tags: form
In question tags a statement is turned into a question by the addition of an opposite question tag. If a statement is positive, the tag is negative and viceversa.
In tags, subject pronouns (for example 'you') always come after the verb. For example:
You don't remember much, do you? (NOT You don't remember much, you do?)
The statement and question tag elements of the question should be separated by a comma. For example:
He can read this book, can't he? (NOT He can read this book can't he?)
All question tags should end with a question mark. For example:
Correct: She's sitting on your chair, isn't she? (NOT She's sitting on your chair, isn't she.)
There are two main types of question tags:
1. Positive question tags
If the statement is negative, the question tag is positive. For example:
He's not interested, is he?
You don't like TV, do you?
You're not friendly, are you?
2. Negative question tags
If the statement is positive, the question tag is negative. For example:
We are hungry, aren't we?
You feel upset, don't you?
He likes Elvis, doesn’t he?
Let’s see what happens:
With and without auxiliary verbs
If the statement part of the sentence uses an auxiliary verb (be or have) the question tag uses the same auxiliary verb.
They are eating, aren’t they?
I have scored two points, haven't I?
You're the tallest, aren't you?
They have had the lead, haven't they?
If the statement doesn't include an auxiliary verb then the question tag uses the appropriate form of 'do'.
I won that race, didn't I?
You enjoy football, don't you?
They live next door, don't they?
It sounds like a cat, doesn't it?
With modal verbs
If the statement includes a modal verb (should, would, could, may, might, must, shall or will) the correct question tag will use the same modal verb.
You can’t swim, can you? (NOT You can’t swim, can’t you?)
I must remember to phone him more often, mustn't I? (NOT I must remember to phone him more often, shouldn't I?)
She could read, couldn’t she? (NOT She could read, can’t she?)
Positive imperative statements require the question tag, 'won't you?' For example:
Eat your dinner, won't you? (NOT Eat your dinner, don't you?)
Negative imperative statements require the question tag, 'will you?'
Never stop dancing, will you? (NOT Never stop dancing, won't you?)
Other rules to remember when using question tags
If the statement starts with 'I am' the correct question tag is ‘aren't I’? For example:
I am the tallest tree, aren't I? (NOT I am the tallest tree, don't I?)
Statements that start with 'let's' require the question tag, 'shall we?' For example:
Let's have fish and chips for tea, shall we? (NOT Let's have fish and chips for tea, will we?)
Variant forms of question tags are generally short and are related to particular English dialects. Examples include ‘right? eh? OK? alright?’ and, in Multicultural London English, ‘innit?’ (a form of 'isn't it'):
It’s cold out there, innit?
We're going to the pub, OK?
You're name's Joe, right?
The importance of intonation
When it comes to question tags, intonation or the way that you say the question tells the listener whether or not you intend to ask a real question. If we don't know the answer, the question is real and our tone will rise at the end. If we do know the answer, the question is rhetorical and our tone will lower at the end.
My biggest asset is Charlotte, isn't it?
If the tone rises at the end (on the word 'it') the speaker is not sure whether or not Charlotte is an asset (a question is asked). If the tone lowers at the end (on the word 'it') the speaker knows that Charlotte is an asset (a statement is made).
Here is a table with all the examples to help you learn question tags:
|(with verb to be) We are hungry,||aren't we?|
|(with auxiliary) I have scored two points,||haven't I?|
|(without auxiliary) You enjoy football,||don't you?|
|(with modal verbs) She could read,||couldn’t she?|
|(with imperatives) Eat your dinner,||won't you?|
|(with ‘I am’) I am the tallest tree,||aren't I?|
|(with ‘Let’s’) Let's have fish and chips for tea,||shall we?|
|(with verb to be) He's not interested,||is he?|
|(with auxiliary) You don't like TV,||do you?|
|(with modal verbs) You can’t swim,||can you?|
|(with imperatives) Never stop dancing,||will you?|