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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 Stellaaa,

Neither sentence is correct, I'm afraid. We use tag questions after affirmative sentences, not after questions. The correct forms would be:

You forgot your umbrella, didn't you?

You didn't forget your umbrella, did you?

In the first sentence, the speaker is sure that the other person forgot their umbrella. The question is not really asking for information, but for confirmation.

In the second question, the speaker is either not sure that the other person forgot their umbrella or is very surprised about it. The question suggests us that the speaker cannot believe that this is the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Why should we add Question tags

Hi rudresh007,

Question tags are mainly used in speaking. If you say something and you want someone to confirm or disagree with it, you can add a question tag to your statement. The question tag invites the listener to respond. They're really useful :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes. That makes sense. Many many thanks for your kind answer.

What's about Tag-question with Complex and Compound Sentences?

Hi Ataur Rahman,

The answer is a bit complicated! Let's take an example complex-compound sentence.

  • You love chocolate and you eat it every day, even though it’s not healthy

 

How we make the tag question depends on which part the tag refers to. We can say this:

  • You love chocolate and you eat it every day, even though it’s not healthy, is it? (the tag refers to 'it's not healthy')

 

If we want the tag to refer to 'You love chocolate' or 'you eat it every day', we should reorganise the sentence to keep the tag next to that part, so that the meaning is clear. So:

  • Even though chocolate’s not healthy, you love it and you eat it every day, don't you? (the tag refers to 'you eat it every day')
  • You eat chocolate every day, even though it’s not healthy, and you love it, don't you? (the tag refers to 'you love it')

 

Does that make sense? If you see any examples of this that you'd like to discuss, feel free to post them here.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

What's about Tag-question after Compound Sentence and Complex Sentence?

Hi Ataur Rahman,

You can use a question tag in compound or complex sentences, but you need to make sure that it's clear to the reader or listener what the question tag refers to. It's harder to do that with long sentences.

For example:

-- Your sister lives in Spain because her company moved there, doesn't she?

In this sentence, the question tag is separated from the thing it refers to ('Your sister lives') by other information, so it's hard to understand. We can rephrase the sentence like this:

-- As your sister's company moved to Spain, she lives there now, doesn't she?

That keeps the question tag close to what it refers to. In this way, you can phrase your sentence according to what part of it you want the question tag to focus on.

-- He can't drive and you can't either, can you? (focuses on 'you can't drive')
-- You can't drive and he can't either, can he? (focuses on 'he can't drive')

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan,
Thanks for your feedback. So, it is clear that - in the case of Compound or Complex Sentenc, we should follow the "Principle of Proximity" so that the desired/targeted part of the sentence is directly followed by the tag.

Hi Ataur Rahman,

Yes :) That's right.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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