Grammar Reminder: Question Tags

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If you’re students have been listening to English speakers, they will be aware of sentences that have questions tagged onto the end.  It is used most commonly in spoken English and they’re referred to as question tags.

We make question tags by adding a negative tag if the sentence is positive and by adding a positive tag if the sentence is negative. For example:

Positive Sentence – Negative tag

  • He’s a teacher, isn’t he?
  • You work in an office, don’t you?

Negative sentence – Positive Tag

  • You haven’t tried that, have you?
  • He isn’t playing, is he?

The same verb is used in the question tags that are used in the sentence. If this sentence is using an auxiliary verb then the question tag will use one too. For example, if the auxiliary verbs were -have and -be the sentence would look like this:

  • This isn’t filming, is it? (auxiliary verb -be)
  • She hadn’t met him before, had she? (auxiliary verb -have in the past)
  • He has gone away for a few weeks, hasn’t he? (auxiliary verb have)

If the sentence doesn’t contain an auxiliary verb then we use -do in its appropriate form in the sentence and the question tags:

  • She doesn’t eat meat, does she?
  • You don’t remember me, do you?
  • You made that, didn’t you?

If the sentence contains a modal verb, the tag question will contain the modal verb:

  • They couldn’t see me, could they?
  • You won’t say anything, will you?

If you are making question tags with I am you must use -aren’t I? And, not am I? So, your question will look like this:

  • I am the greatest, aren’t I?
  • I am the fastest, aren’t I?

There is also a change in intonation depending on the answer you are expecting to the question. If you already know the answer so you are expecting a “yes” the intonation will fall. If the question is one where you’re not sure if the answer will be “yes” or “no” your intonation will rise.

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