A Quick Guide to Question Tags (Part 1)

A question tag is a small phrase, such as ‘isn’t it’ or ‘do they’, that is placed at the end of a statement to turn it into a question.  The use of tags is fairly informal, which means that it is much more common in speaking than in writing.

Uses

We generally use question tags:

  • to invite the listener to agree with what we say.

E.g. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?

  • to check if something is true.

E.g. We won’t be seeing them again, will we?

  • to make an imperative (order) sound polite.

E.g. Pass me the salt, will you?

  • to ask for information in a polite way.

E.g. You wouldn’t know where the nearest ATM is, would you?

Form

Question tags consist of two parts: a verb and subject. The verb can be a main verb (be), auxiliary verb (be, do, have) or modal verb (e.g. can, will). The subject is usually a pronoun (e.g. she, they).  Here are a few things to keep in mind while forming question tags.

  • The subject in the statement should usually match the subject in the tag. Mind you, sometimes it doesn’t have to.

E.g. You are going to be there, aren’t you? (subjects match)

        I can’t imagine him being a good husband, can you? (subjects do not match)

  • If the statement is positive, then the tag is typically negative. On the other hand, if the statement is negative, the tag is positive.

E.g. He will call us when he lands, won’t he?

       He won’t call us when he lands, will he?

  • The verb (main, auxiliary or modal) in the statement needs to usually match the verb in the tag.

E.g. She can come too, can’t she?

  • If the statement does not have an auxiliary or modal verb, then the auxiliary do, does or did is used in the tag. This generally happens when the statement is positive and in the present or past simple tense.

E.g. He called you last night, didn’t he?

Answering a tag

Quite often we respond to a question tag with a Yes or No. However, sometimes we reverse the tag and use it along with the Yes/No response. Here’s an example:

A: They don’t have to pay for the guided tour, do they?

B: Yes, they do. / No, they don’t.

Make sure you read the next part to know more about this unique language structure that appears regularly in conversational English.

You can find more English grammar lessons on our LearnEnglish website here.

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