Question tags are the short questions that we put on the end of sentences – particularly in spoken English. There are lots of different question tags but the rules are not difficult to learn.
If the main part of the sentence is positive, the question tag is negative ….
... and if the main part of the sentence is negative, the question tag is positive.
With auxiliary verbs
The question tag uses the same verb as the main part of the sentence. If this is an auxiliary verb (‘have’, ‘be’) then the question tag is made with the auxiliary verb.
Without auxiliary verbs
If the main part of the sentence doesn’t have an auxiliary verb, the question tag uses an appropriate form of ‘do’.
With modal verbs
If there is a modal verb in the main part of the sentence the question tag uses the same modal verb.
With ‘I am’
Be careful with question tags with sentences that start ‘I am’. The question tag for ‘I am’ is ‘aren’t I?’
Question tags can either be ‘real’ questions where you want to know the answer or simply asking for agreement when we already know the answer.
If the question tag is a real question we use rising intonation. Our tone of voice rises.
If we already know the answer we use falling intonation. Our tone of voice falls.
Theadverbs never, rarely, seldom, hardly, barely and scarcely have a negative sense. Even though they may be in a positive statement, the feeling of the statement is negative. We treat statements with these words like negative statements, so the question tag is normally positive. Look at these examples:
treated as negative statement
|He never came again,||did he?|
|She can rarely come these days,||can she?|
|You hardly ever came late,||did you?|
|I barely know you,||do I?|
|You would scarcely expect her to know that,||would you?|
|Serial No||Real form||Contracted Form||Examples in tag questions|
|1||shall||shan’t||I shall ask you to sit for exam on tag questions, shan’t I?|
|2||should||shouldn’t||We should not tell a lie, shouldn’t we?|
|3||will||won’t||They will not sleep at late night any more, won’t they?|
|4||would||wouldn’t||You would come yesterday, wouldn’t you?|
|5||can||can’t||Birds can fly, can’t they?|
|6||could||couldn’t||He couldn’t leave you, couldn’t he?|
|7||may||mayn’t||You may go now, mayn’t you?|
|8||might||mightn’t||Allah might do this, mightn’t Allah?|
|9||need||needn’t||She needn’t go there, need she?|
|10||dare||daren’t||How dare you do this, daren’t you?|
|11||must||mustn’t||We must pray to the almighty, mustn’t we?|
|12||used to||usedn’t||He used to walk out in the morning, usedn’t he?|
|13||ought to||hadn’t||You oughtn’t do this wrong, oughtn’t you?|
|14||had better||hadn’t||I had to write more about this, hadn’t I?|
|15||would rather||wouldn’t||She would die than beg, wouldn’t she?|
|16||have to||haven’t||This modal verb is not used in tag question.|
|17||going to||going to||This modal verb is not used in tag question.|
Sometimes 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|
|Take a seat, won't you?||polite invitation|
|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|
Although the basic structure of tag questions is positive-negative or negative-positive, it is sometimes possible to use a positive-positive or negative-negative structure. We use same-way tag questions to express interest, surprise, anger etc, and not to make real questions.
Look at these positive-positive tag questions:
Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:
Notice that we often use tag questions to ask for information or help, starting with a negative statement. This is quite a friendly/polite way of making a request. For example, instead of saying "Where is the police station?" (not very polite), or "Do you know where the police station is?" (slightly more polite), we could say: "You wouldn't know where the police station is, would you?" Here are some more examples:
|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)|
Folllow these links and do the exercises.