A Quick Guide to Question Tags (Part 2)

The first part in this series threw light on two aspects of question tags: some common uses and the grammatical form.  Let’s now consider how pronunciation can alter the meaning of a question tag and how tags can sometimes be used in unusual ways.  

Pronunciation

In speech, when we use a question tag, the stress is generally on the verb (e.g. isn’t she?, aren’t they?). The intonation is usually falling – i.e. the voice goes down – if we are fairly sure of the answer. However, if there is any doubt, a rising intonation is used to make the uncertainty clear. Here is a comparison:

You’re Cindy’s cousin, aren’t you? (↘)

You would use a falling intonation here if you are pretty sure of what you are saying.

You’re Cindy’s cousin, aren’t you? (↗)

A rising intonation would be the natural choice here if you are not very sure about this fact.

Special features   

In very informal situations, it is acceptable to use the words right and yeah instead of question tags. They are sometimes referred to as universal tags. Here are a couple of examples:

We don’t have to pay for it, right? (less informal – We don’t have to pay for it, do we?)

You will pick her up, yeah? (less informal – You will pick her up, won’t you?)

If you need to emphasise a positive statement, you can use what is called a statement tag. In such a structure, both the statement and the tag are positive.

E.g. He was a great sportsman, Shane was.

We use imperative clauses when we wish to tell somebody to do something. Such clauses are commonly used to offer advice, give suggestions, make requests, give instructions and issue commands. When an imperative clause beginning with the word let’s is used to make a suggestion, the modal verb plus pronoun combination of ‘shall we?’ often appears as the question tag.

E.g. Let’s go watch a movie, shall we?

       Let’s share a large pizza, shall we?

Similarly, when an imperative clause is used to offer advice, we often use the tags ‘will you?’ or ‘won’t you?’ in order to urge the listener to accept our suggestion.

 E.g. Do make it up with your sister, won’t you?

        Don’t stay up all night, will you?

So, if question tags are new to you, do make an effort to learn them because it is a great way to involve someone in a conversation.

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

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