Question tags are short questions at the end of statements.
They are mainly used in speech when we want to:
- confirm that something is true or not, or
- to encourage a reply from the person we are speaking to.
Question tags are formed with the auxiliary or modal verb from the statement and the appropriate subject.
A positive statement is followed by a negative question tag.
- Jack is from Spain, isn’t he?
- Mary can speak English, can’t she?
A negative statement is followed by a positive question tag.
- They aren’t funny, are they?
- He shouldn’t say things like that, should he?
If the main part of the sentence is positive, the question tag is negative ….
- He’s a doctor, isn’t he?
- You work in a bank, don’t you?
… and if the main part of the sentence is negative, the question tag is positive.
- You haven’t met him, have you?
- She isn’t coming, is she?
When the verb in the main sentence is in the present simple we form the question tag with do / does.
- You play the guitar, don’t you?
- Alison likes tennis, doesn’t she?
With auxiliary verbs
The question tag uses the same verb as the main part of the sentence. If this is an auxiliary verb (‘have’, ‘be’) then the question tag is made with the auxiliary verb.
- They’ve gone away for a few days, haven’t they?
- They weren’t here, were they?
- He had met him before, hadn’t he?
- This isn’t working, is it?
If the verb is in the past simple we use did.
- They went to the cinema, didn’t they?
- She studied in New Zealand, didn’t she?
When the statement contains a word with a negative meaning, the question tag needs to be positive
- He hardly ever speaks, does he?
- They rarely eat in restaurants, do they?
Question Tags Summary Charts
Without auxiliary verbs
If the main part of the sentence doesn’t have an auxiliary verb, the question tag uses an appropriate form of ‘do’.
- I said that, didn’t I?
- You don’t recognise me, do you?
- She eats meat, doesn’t she?
With modal verbs
If there is a modal verb in the main part of the sentence the question tag uses the same modal verb.
- They couldn’t hear me, could they?
- You won’t tell anyone, will you?
With ‘I am’
Be careful with question tags with sentences that start ‘I am’. The question tag for ‘I am’ is ‘aren’t I?’
- I’m the fastest, aren’t I?
Question tags can either be ‘real’ questions where you want to know the answer or simply asking for agreement when we already know the answer.
If the question tag is a real question we use rising intonation. Our tone of voice rises.
If we already know the answer we use falling intonation. Our tone of voice falls.
When we are sure of the answer and we are simply encouraging a response, the intonation in the question tag goes down:
- This is your car, isn’t it?
(Your voice goes down when you say isn’t it.)
When we are not sure and want to check information, the intonation in the question tag goes up:
- He is from France, isn’t he?
(Your voice goes up when you say isn’t he.)
Some verbs / expressions have different question tags. For example:
I am – I am attractive, aren’t I?
Positive imperative – Stop daydreaming, will / won’t you?
Negative imperative – Don’t stop singing, will you?
Let’s – Let’s go to the beach, shall we?
Have got (possession) – He has got a car, hasn’t he?
There is / are – There aren’t any spiders in the bedroom, are there?
This / that is – This is Paul’s pen, isn’t it?