TESOL/Question tags

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Questions tags are short questions that come at the end of sentences that reflect the main clause.

Wikiversity is fantastic, isn't it?

Mechanics[edit | edit source]

Negative with positive[edit | edit source]

Usually, a negative main clause has a positive question tag, and a positive main clause has a negative question tag.

Main clause Question tag
+ She is nice isn't she? -
- She isn't nice is she? +

Grammatical exception[edit | edit source]

Notice the following examples break the rule.

  • Nobody came, did they? (Nobody came, didn't they?)
  • He would hardly know anything, would he? (He would hardly know anything, wouldn't he?)
  • She can never remember, can she? (She can never remember, can't she?)
Explanation[edit | edit source]

Even when the main clause is negative, a negative question tag is used if the main clause contains a negative word, such as:

  • never
  • nobody
  • nowhere
  • little
  • hardly

Discourse exception[edit | edit source]

Positive main clauses may have positive question tags to indicate a reaction like surprise.

  • You're buying a car, are you?
  • He quit, did he?
  • She thinks I'm strange, does she?

Auxiliary verbs are repeated[edit | edit source]

An auxiliary verb in the main clause is repeated in the question tag.

  • She can't know, can she?
  • He could come, couldn't he?
  • She wouldn't like to come, would she?
  • He shan't go, shall he?
  • She should come, shouldn't she?

Exception[edit | edit source]

The question tag of "I am" is aren't I?

  • I'm right, aren't I?
  • I'm done, aren't I?
  • I'm ready, aren't I?

No auxiliary[edit | edit source]

If there is no auxiliary verb in the main clause, do is used instead.

  • She does know, doesn't she?
  • He came, didn't he?
  • You ate your dinner, didn't you?

Function[edit | edit source]

They are normal in conversation but sound informal in writing. In conversation, they perform essential communicative tasks.

Seeking Agreement[edit | edit source]

Question tags function to seek agreement from the listener or reader, in the case of writing. In conversation, falling intonation at the question tag sounds affirmative.

Asking questions[edit | edit source]

In conversation, a question tag with rising intonation acts as a question.

  • Today's not Tuesday, is it? (rising intonation suggests that the speaker does not know what day it is)
  • That's not the president, is it? (The speaker does not know if it is the president)

Imperatives[edit | edit source]

Question tags can be used for imperatives in several ways.

Indirect requests[edit | edit source]

Negative statements with question tags often function as indirect requests.

  • You couldn't lend me some cash, could you?
  • You wouldn't know where the station is, would you?
Polite requests[edit | edit source]

Especially in British English, the question tag won't you? is used to make a polite request.

  • Join us, won't you?
  • Have some coffee, won't you?

Direct requests[edit | edit source]

As opposed to indirect main requests, if the main clause itself is an imperative, the question tag is will you?

  • Come here, will you?
  • Give me a break, will you?
  • Finish your report, will you?

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Write question tags for these sentences.


You understand question tags,


Good morning,


I'm in the right place,


Give me your sandwich,

(Not particularly polite)


He got the letter,


Let's go to school,