You are here

Question tags

Do you know how to use question tags like is he and didn't you?

Look at these examples to see how question tags are used.

You haven't seen this film, have you?
Your sister lives in Spain, doesn't she?
He can't drive, can he?

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Question tags: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We can add question tags like isn't it?, can you? or didn't they? to a statement to make it into a question. Question tags are more common in speaking than writing.

We often use question tags when we expect the listener to agree with our statement. In this case, when the statement is positive, we use a negative question tag.

She's a doctor, isn't she?
Yesterday was so much fun, wasn't it?

If the statement is negative, we use a positive question tag. 

He isn't here, is he?
The trains are never on time, are they?
Nobody has called for me, have they?

If we are sure or almost sure that the listener will confirm that our statement is correct, we say the question tag with a falling intonation. If we are a bit less sure, we say the question tag with a rising intonation.

Formation

If there is an auxiliary verb in the statement, we use it to form the question tag.

I don't need to finish this today, do I?
James is working on that, isn't he?
Your parents have retired, haven't they?
The phone didn't ring, did it?
It was raining that day, wasn't it?
Your mum hadn't met him before, had she?

Sometimes there is no auxiliary verb already in the statement. For example, when:

... the verb in the statement is present simple or past simple and is positive. Here we use don't, doesn't or didn't:

Jenni eats cheese, doesn't she?
I said that already, didn't I? 

... the verb in the statement is to be in the present simple or past simple. In this case we use to be to make the question tag:

The bus stop's over there, isn't it?
None of those customers were happy, were they?

... the verb in the statement is a modal verb. Here we use the modal verb to make the question tag:

They could hear me, couldn't they?
You won't tell anyone, will you?

If the main verb or auxiliary verb in the statement is am, the positive question tag is am I? but the negative question tag is usually aren't I?:

I'm never on time, am I?
I'm going to get an email with the details, aren't I?

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Question tags: Grammar test 2

Language level

Intermediate: B1
Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Can we say:
We shall play well in the game, shan't we?

Hello Baxtyar

This would sound very unusual nowadays. For one thing, 'shall' is not used to speak about the future; it is used to make offers or suggestions. Secondly, 'shan't' is almost never used in ordinary speaking or writing.

A more common way of expressing this idea would be 'We're going to play well, aren't we?' or 'We're going to play well, right?'

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,
When you say that'shall' is not used to speak about the future; it is used to make offers or suggestions.
Doesn't the offer or suggestion with "shall" implies a future time reference?
And won't it be similar furure time reference with the use of earlier semi modals "need to" , "ought to" and "have to".
Best regards

Hello Bharati

Yes, that's right. I was responding to the way Baxtyar's sentence used 'shall'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

So why do English reuse "ought" in question tag for "ought to", for example, You ought to stay indoor, oughtn't you?
Isn't right that what is true for goose, it is so for the gander?
What is the difference between "ought to" and "need to"?
Aren't they both semi-modals?
Wasn't "need" reused in tags either old English or various dialects?
Thanks.

Hello Baxtyar,

Need is a verb which is in the process of change. In the past, need was a full modal verb and its grammar was in line with other modal verbs. Thus, questions were formed with inversion:

Need you do that?

 

However, in modern English this sounds highly archaic and unnatural. Instead, we form questions as we would with other non-modal verbs such as want:

Do you need to do that?

 

This is the reason why need is not used in question tags in modern English. However, in some aspects need still has apsects of its modal verb roots. We can form a negative with or without an auxiliary (don't need or needn't) and can make a perfect form (need have), for example. 

 

Ought is undergoing a similar process, but it still retains most of its modal grammar and can be used in question tags. In the future, I expect it will follow the same path as need.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

What is the question tag for:
(You need to study hard)?
Is (need to) ever reused in the tag in British accent, American, Australian and so on?

Hello Baxyar,

For sentences with need we form question tags with do:

You need to study hard, do/don't you?

 

We don't use need in question tags.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
When question tag is added to a simple sentence ,what form does it take grammatically? Does the entire sentence become compound sentence having two co-ordinate clauses: one, the simple sentence and other, the question tag?
Thanks

Hello Bharati,

A tag question is a dependent clause attached to the main clause, with a pronoun referring back to a noun in the main clause. Downing uses the term 'abbreviated clause' and defines tag questions as follows:

Question tags are not independent clauses, but they do require a response, and are highly interactive. Structurally, interrogatives are abbreviated yes/no interrogatives consisting of an operator (either positive or negative) and a pronoun, which repeats the subject or substitutes for it. Question tags are attached to one of the following clause types: Of these, the declarative is by far the most common.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Pages