TESOL/Question tags

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

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Mechanics[edit]

Negative with positive[edit]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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

Seeking Agreement[edit]

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]

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]

Question tags can be used for imperatives in several ways.

Indirect requests[edit]

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]

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]

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]

Write question tags for these sentences.

1  

You understand question tags,

2  

Good morning,

3  

I'm in the right place,

4  

Give me your sandwich,

(Not particularly polite)

5  

He got the letter,

6  

Let's go to school,