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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

Hello,
Please can you tell me which of the following is correct and why.

- Tom, you could lend me your bike, couldn't you?
- Tom, you couldn't lend me your bike, could you?

I teach English, but am having a dispute with a fellow teacher over this.

We wouldn't say, "Tom, you could lend me your bike, couldn't you?"

But, "Tom, you couldn't lend me your bike, could you?" . . . is a very polite and gentle way to ask a favour.

I know it sounds crazy, to start a request with "You couldn't" . . . but it's just the way we say it.

It's almost as if we are expecting our request to be refused. And then at the end, we make a desperate plea with, "could you ?"

A very frequent request is, "Hey Tom, you couldn't lend me a fiver, could you?
I'll pay you back tomorrow"

Hello LaurenceMartin,

As I said in my earlier reply, the version with '...you couldn't...' is certainly the more common way to make a polite request. However, the other version is not incorrect and is possible in certain contexts, particularly when you are trying to convince someone to do something or want to exert pressure on them to comply.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello EnglishTeacher1,

Both are possible, grammatically speaking. However, the second is the more common way to make a polite request.

If you have a particular context in mind then we can comment on that, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good morning!
Would the intonation be up for both? Or up for ine and down for the other and which way, if this is the case?
Thank you so much for your help in this matter.

Hello again Englishteacher1,

Obviously, intonation is highly dependent on context and the speaker's intention and expectations. That said, I would expect the following:

Sentence 1 (...couldn't you?) - the question is probably rhetorical and the speaker is sure that the answers is yes; the inonation would likely be falling on the tag.

Sentence 2 (...could you?) - the question is probably a real request for information and the speaker is unsure of the answer (though hopeful it will be 'yes'); the inonation would likely be rising on the tag.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
I am dubious about the following structure:
#He is a good football player, is not he?
I've only come across it in shakespeare's writings, but not in modern English. Is it better to say:
#He is a rock player, is he not?
If the first example is incorrect, could You please explain why?
Thank you in advance.

Hello Drew Gun,

In modern English the tag question is almost always contracted: isn't he?

In the uncontracted form it would be is he not?

There is no tag question form is not he?

 

It's been a while since I studied Shakespeare, but I don't recall the form occurring in his writings as a tag question. Do you have a line you could quote in which it appears?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello M. Peter
I didn't actually saw question tags there, but the that pattern did appear there, although I don't remember where too. I have looked up for that structure and at forums it's said to be archaic and not used anymore.

Hello
Did you forget your umbrella,didn't you?
Didn't you forget your umbrella,did you?
What is difference between these?

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