Grammar. 28.09.2010
Grammar Teacher

Английская грамматика: Tag Questions

Автор: Grammar Teacher

1. You have heard about them, haven’t you?

Every English speaker knows dozens of ways to add a word or a phrase to the end of a statement so that it becomes a yes/no question. Questions formed in this way are called tag questions.

A "tag" is something small that we add to something larger. For example, the little piece of cloth added to a shirt showing size or washing instructions is a tag.

Here are a couple of examples:

He is smart, isn’t he?
Van Gogh was a French painter, wasn't he?
You didn't see him at the party, did you?

We use question tags at the end of statements to ask for confirmation (запевнення). They mean something like: "Am I right?" or "Do you agree?”. They are not really questions but are a way of asking the other person to make a comment and so keep the conversation open. A Ukrainian “адже так” and a Russian “не так ли” serve the same purpose. Unfortunately, in English we don’t have a universal phrase for all occasions. Therefore, the rule of Subject-Predicate Agreement should be always in our mind. There are various forms depending upon the subject and auxiliary verb used in the statement.

2. Every rule has its exceptions, doesn’t it?

A tag question consists of two parts: a statement and a shortened yes/no question that refers to it and asks if the first statement is true. The two parts are separated by a comma.
To form a tag question, first of all, you need to find an auxiliary verb in a statement and put it in the first place, right after the comma. Then add a pronoun (which represents the subject of your statement) and your question tag is ready. Another thing to consider is that normally we use a NEGATIVE question tag after a POSITIVE statement and a POSITIVE question tag after a NEGATIVE statement.

+
Positive statement,
-
negative tag

 
Snow is white, isn't it?
-
Negative statement,
+
positive tag?
You don't like me, do you?


Pay attention!

If there is no helping word in the main sentence, use do/does/did (for the Present Simple and Past Simple).
For example:

They go to school by bus, don't they?
They escaped immediately, didn't they?
He comes here every day, doesn't he?


Tag Questions

Other cases

1. In the present tense, if the subject is 'I', the auxiliary changes to 'are' or 'aren't'.
I'm sitting next to you, aren't I?

2. With 'let's', the tag question is 'shall we'.
Let's go to the beach, shall we?

3. With an imperative, the tag question is 'will you'.
Close the window, will you?

4. We use a positive tag question after a sentence containing a negative word such as never, nobody.
Nobody lives in this house, do they?
You've never liked me, have you?

5. When the subject is nobody, somebody, everybody, no one, someone, or everyone, we use 'they' in the tag question.
Nobody asked for me, did they?

6. If the main verb in the sentence is 'have' (not an auxiliary verb), it is more common to use 'do' in the question tag.
You have a Ferrari, don't you?

8. With used to, we use 'didn't' in the tag question.
You used to work here, didn't you?


Beyond these basic kinds of tag questions, though, there are many other ways of achieving the same (or very similar) result. “Don’t you think?” is very common, as are “Right?” and “OK?” and sometimes even “huh?”, “hey”, “eh”. In certain parts of the U.S., Canada, and England, “isn’t it?” is shortened to “innit?” and used as an all-purpose tag question, even where the verb doesn’t seem to match.

For example:
“This shirt costs a lot of money, innit?”

 

 3. Tag Questions Have Many Uses, don’t they?

What I find most interesting about tag questions is their many and varied uses. In some regional dialects of English, tag questions occur quite frequently—every few sentences or so. They are usually used to confirm or check information that we think is true or to check information that we aren't sure is true. Sometimes we just use them for effect, when we are trying to be sarcastic, or to make a strong point. So be sure to use them with care.

We show the meaning of the tag question through intonation.

With rising intonation, it sounds like a real question:

You don't know where my wallet is, do you?

But if our intonation falls, it sounds more like a statement that doesn't require a real answer. You’re only inviting listener to agree with you:
 

It's a beautiful view, isn't it

In this case tag questions are used mainly as a tool to keep conversations going, to involve other participants.

Tag questions that expect a response are looking for a positive response: an agreement with the speaker’s original statement. They say: “I believe such-and-such. Do you agree?”
It would be unexpected for a listener to shout out “Not really!”

One recent research on female friendship has shown that tag questions are primarily used by females. For example in respond to some news a man might say:

Tag Questions - 2“That is ridiculous”,
…while a woman might say:
“That is ridiculous, isn’t it?

As for me, beyond this lies the female need to be always right.

We can use a negative sentence + positive tag to ask for things or information, or to ask somebody to do something. The voice goes up at the end of the tag in sentences like these:

“You haven’t got a pen, have you?” - “Yes, here you are!”
“You couldn’t do me a favor, could you?” – “It depends what it is”


4. You got it, didn’t you?

I guess you did. But still I invite you to watch the following video with a young lady reviewing tag questions. She also explains about the possible answers to them.
 


You probably want to ask me some tag questions, don’t you?
I’m waiting for them, aren’t I?
 
Мы рассмотрели правила и примеры формирования разделительных вопросов в английском языке. Чтобы узнать больше об английской грамматике, читайте другие публикации в разделе Grammar!
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