Question tags

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Question tags
do you? isn't it?

A. Study these examples:

  • A: ‘You haven't seen Mary today, have you?’    
  • B: No, I'm afraid not.
  • A: It was a good film, wasn't it?           
  • B: Yes, I really enjoyed it.

Have you? and wasn't it? are question tags (= mini-questions that we often put on the end of a sentence in spoken English).

In question tags, we use an auxiliary verb (have/was/will etc.).
We use do/does/did for the present and past simple:
  • 'Karen plays the piano, doesn't she?'     'Well, yes, but not very well.'
  • 'You didn't lock the door, did you?'         'No, I forgot.'

B. Normally we use a negative question tag after a positive sentence:

 positive sentence     +
  negative tag
 Mary will be here soon,
 won't she?
 There was a lot of traffic,
 wasn't there?
 Jim should pass the exam, 
 shouldn't he?


...and a positive question tag after a negative sentence:

 negative sentence     +
  positive tag
Mary won't be latewill she?
They don't like us,  
do they?
You haven't got a car, have you?

Notice the meaning of yes and no in answer to a negative sentence:

  • You re not going out today, are you?     Yes. (= Yes, I am going out)    
  • You re not going out today, are you?     No. (= No, I am not going out)

C. The meaning of a question tag depends on how you say it. If your voice goes down, you aren't really asking a question; you are only inviting the listener to agree with you:

  • 'It's a nice day, isn’t it?'↓  'Yes, lovely.'
  • 'Tim doesn't look well today, does he?↓' 'No, he looks very tired.'
  • She's very pretty. She's got beautiful eyes, hasn’t she?↓

But if the voice goes up, it is a real question:

  • 'You haven't seen Mary today, have you?↑' 'No, I'm afraid not.'     (= Have you seen Mary today by any chance?)

We often use a negative sentence + positive tag to ask for things or information, or to ask somebody to do something. The voice goes up at the end of the tag in sentences like these:

  • 'You haven't got a pen, have you?↑' 'Yes, here you are.'
  • 'You couldn't do me a favour, could you?↑' 'It depends what it is.'
  • 'You don't know where Karen is, do you?↑' 'Sorry, I've no idea.'

D. After Let's... the question tag is ...shall we?:

  • Let's go for a walk, shall we?

After the imperative (Do... /Don't do... etc.), the tag is usually ...will you?:

  • Open the door, will you?              
  •  Don't be late, will you?

Note that we say ...aren't I? (= am I not?):

  • I'm late, aren't I?



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