Tag questions in English are an unusual category of questions in the language.
Because Tag Questions are not fully questions.
We often use them simply as a way to:
- Start a conversation.
- Express an emotion.
- Share a thought.
- Confirm information.
Max is confused, isn’t he?
You’re so brave, aren’t you?
What are tag questions?
Tag Questions get their name from the ending called the tag.
The Tag is the most important part of this type of question.
You’re a very unusual boy, aren’t you?
Most often we ask a tag question in English when we already know the answer. We ask such questions to get confirmation.
We can compare a Tag Question with a General Question because a Tag Question can also be answered with a simple yes or no.
Question: You’re about to say something emotional, aren’t you?
Answer: Yes, I am.
How to form the tag in tag questions?
The second part of a Tag question (the part in which the tag is located) cannot exist without an auxiliary verb. This auxiliary verb can be:
- to be
- to have
- modal verb
We use the subject in the tag along with the auxiliary verb. Most often this is a pronoun.
You have started dating again, haven’t you?
How do we understand which auxiliary verb should be used in the tag? It’s very easy!
The auxiliary verb depends on which verb is used in the first part of the tag question.
Your brother works hard, does he?
We are good boys, aren’t we?
You want to ask me something, don’t you?
If in the first part we use an ordinary verb (see, work, love, run, write), then in the tag we use do/does.
If in the first part we use the modal verb, to be or to have, then in the tag we also use the modal verb, to be or to have, respectively.
I am and tag
If we use I am in the first part of the Tag question, then in the tag instead of am we must use are/aren’t.
I’m talking to you, aren’t I?
I’m getting fast, aren’t I?
I think you understand the logic behind why we use are instead of am? Aren’t I is much easier to say than to say the awkward am not I.
More about auxiliary verbs in Tag questions in English Grammar
Let’s take a closer look at what auxiliary verbs we use in Tag questions.
The auxiliary verb in the tag depends on which verb we use in the first, main part of the tag question.
Sometimes there is no auxiliary verb at all in the first part of a Tag question.
For example, if we form the first part using Present Simple or Past Simple. Let’s see what to do in this case:
If the first part of a Tag question is a Present Simple sentence, this means that such a sentence uses an ordinary verb (see, work, love, run, write).
What do we do if we want to ask a question in Present Simple with a regular verb? We use do or does. So we also use do or does in the tag (it depends on who the subject is in the sentence).
You like basketball, don’t you?
Tastes like spring, doesn’t it?
If we use Past Simple in the first part, then in the tag we use did as an auxiliary verb:
He married you, didn’t he?
I called you too late, didn’t I?
If we use the Future Simple in the first affirmative part, then in the tag we use will as an auxiliary verb.
You‘ll help me, won’t you?
You will marry me, won’t you?
Let’s take a look at a few more cases where you might have problems constructing a Tag question:
If in the first part we use Let’s (Let us) then in the tag we use shall we? It does not matter if the first part contains a negation or a statement.
Let’s make our guests feel welcome, shall we?
Let’s see if there are any survivors, shall we?
If in the first part of the Tag question we use I am, then in the tag we change I am to aren’t I.
I’m getting quite good, aren’t I?
Anyway, I’m nice, aren’t I?
If in the first part we use the there + to be, then we form the tag according to the following rules:
There is – isn’t there?
There isn’t – is there?
There was – wasn’t there?
There wasn’t – was there?
There are – aren’t there?
There aren’t – are there?
There were – weren’t there?
there weren’t- were there?
There will be – won’t there?
There won’t be – will there (be)?
There are limits, aren’t there?
There are two possibilities, aren’t there?
If in the first part we use this is or that is, then in the tag we use isn’t it?
That’s better, isn’t it?
If we form the first part in the imperative mood, then in the tag we form a question with will you (we can use won’t you if the first part is affirmative).
Do me a favor, will you?
Just give me those pills over there, will you?
If in the first part we use Let me, Let him, Let her, Let them, etc. then in the tag we use will you? or won’t you?
Let us out of here, will you?
Let me keep it, will you?
Usage of Tag questions in the English language
There are several different types of Tag questions in English.
Let’s see what types of Tag questions we use in different situations.
If we use the imperative mood in the first part of the Tag question, then in the second part (tag) we use such auxiliary verbs as:
- won’t you
- will you
We use this type of Tag questions for an order or if we persistently ask someone to do something. In English, such order or request sounds more polite in the form of a Tag question.
So do me a favor, will you?
Put it back, could you?
Join us tonight for dinner, will you?
Tag questions if the subject is a personal name or demonstrative pronouns + noun
We can form the first part of the Tag question with the subject as a personal name (John) or demonstrative pronouns + noun (this boy). In this case, in the tag, we change the subject to a short pronoun.
Correct: Tom comes back, does he?
Incorrect: Tom comes back, does Tom?
Correct: Mary has no idea, does she?
Incorrect: Mary has no idea, does Mary?
Correct: This boy doesn’t know everything, does he?
Incorrect: This boy doesn’t know everything, does this boy?
Affirmative Tag questions in English
The affirmative Tag questions are also called double positives. Such questions consist of affirmative sentences in both the first part and the second part (tag).
This type of tag question is not at all like a question. This type is more of a way to emotionally highlight information.
We use affirmative tag questions when we want to emphasize or confirm our statement.
You learn a lot, do you?
They make it easy, do they?
We use tag questions with let’s to find out what our interlocutor thinks. In such a question, we use the verb shall in the tag. We use shall without the negative not even if the first part of the question is a statement.
Let’s make our guests feel welcome, shall we?
Let’s try to speed things up, shall we?
What if we don’t have an auxiliary or subject?
A tag question may not have a subject or auxiliary verb. This often happens in spoken English.
In such sentences, the tag depends on what auxiliary verb or subject should have been in the sentence if we were to use the auxiliary verb.
Walking fast, isn’t he?
Still smiling, aren’t you?
Disjunctive questions are questions with negative words such as never, no one, nothing, etc.
If we use one of these negative words in the first part of the Tag question, then we form the tag in the affirmative form.
No point denying it, is there?
Nothing wrong with facts, is there?
Tag questions and indefinite pronouns
If we use an indefinite pronoun in the first part of the tag question, such as: no one, everyone, someone, etc. then we use they in the tag.
Because they are a universal pronoun that we use when we don’t know the gender of the person we’re talking about. Or when we don’t know the number of people.
Someone warned him, didn’t they?
Everyone here knows, don’t they?
Remember that words like no one or nobody are negative. If we use one of these words in the first part of a tag question, then we form the tag in the affirmative form.
What to do if we are talking about not a person but a thing or concept using indefinite pronouns?
In this case, we use it in the tag.
Something is different now, isn’t it?
Something’s troubling you, isn’t it?
Nothing deters you, does it?
Remember, if in the first part of the tag question we use an indefinite pronoun with a negative value (nothing), then we form the tag with a positive value.
Nothing deters you, does it?
Tag questions and seldom, rarely, hardly, etc.
If in the first part of the tag question we use words such as seldom, rarely, never, hardly, unlikely, etc., this means that the first part is negative.
Therefore, we form a positive tag, without the negative word not.
He rarely sees you, does he?
I will never do that, will I?
You have seldom seen him recently, have you?
Things never change here, do they?
Right and Yeah
We may not use auxiliary verbs in informal speech. We often use words like right and yeah instead of auxiliary verbs.
We use right and yeah when we want confirmation of some information. When we finish a question with right or yeah, we expect the answer to be Yes or No.
He said he was watching us, right?
You went to college, right?
You know what that means, yeah?
So another time maybe, yeah?
I think, I guess it seems to me, etc
If we start a tag question with expressions such as “I think“, “I suppose“, etc., we do not use the do I in the tag.
In such sentences, the tag does not depend on the person or the action of the speaker, but on which verb we use in the question itself.
In such questions, we simply do not take into account the opening phrases “I think“, “I suppose.”
If we start a question with an affirmative phrase “I think”, “I suppose”, etc., then we use the negative not in the tag. And vice versa, if at the beginning of the sentence we use a negative “I don’t think”, “I don’t believe” etc., then we form the tag in the affirmative form.
I think you’re doing great, aren’t you?
I think you know what I think, don’t you?
What is Ain’t?
Ain’t is the contracted form of are not.
are not = aren’t = ain’t
But this does not mean that we can only use ain’t instead of are not.
In English, Ain’t is a contraction not only for are not but also for a few more verbs:
- am not
- is not
- are not
- have not
- has not
- do not (sometimes used in spoken English)
- does not (sometimes used in spoken English)
- did not (sometimes used in spoken English)
Therefore, we can use the short Ain’t in the tag if we need to form the tag with a negative value.
He’s marrying her, ain’t he?
That boy’s some gallant, ain’t he?
She’s a very nice lady, ain’t she?
I’m still here, ain’t I?
How to answer Tag questions correctly
In English, there are two main ways of answering Tag questions:
- Short positive or negative answer
- Full positive or negative answer
We form a short positive or negative answer in the following way:
Yes / No + Subject + auxiliary (not)
Question: You will go with us, won’t you?
Answer: Yes I will.
Question: You don’t like this movie, do you?
Answer: No I don’t.
Now let’s talk about full answers.
To form a full answer, we put Yes or No at the beginning of the sentence, then we repeat the main part of the question.
Yes / No + Subject + auxiliary (not) + main verb + rest of the sentence
Question: You are proud of your job, aren’t you?
Answer: Yes I am proud of my job.
Question: You don’t want to help me, do you?
Answer: No I don’t want to help you.
Additional tips and tricks
Remember that most often we don’t use two negatives in one sentence.
In some languages double negative is acceptable, but not in the English language.
Therefore, be attentive to words such as:
- no one
These words make the sentence negative even if there is no auxiliary verb with the not in the sentence.
If we use one of these words in the first part of the Tag question, then we form the tag with a positive meaning.
I am barely able to do that, am I?
She hardly believes you, does she?
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