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Question tags

What are question tags exactly? Question tags are small tags inserted at the ends of affirmative statements. I.e.,

  • She knows me, doesn’t she?
  • I can run, can’t I?

“Doesn’t she?” and “Can’t I?” are the interrogative tags or question tags that we use at the end of statements (not questions).

The statements can either be negative or affirmative, but the question tags always follow the procedure; negative after affirmative and vice versa.

Therefore, if the statement is negative, the question tag must be positive and if the statement is positive, then the question tag must be negative. I.e,

  • You know about cycling, don’t you? (positive to negative).
  • You don’t know about cycling, do you? (negative to positive).

Why are question tags used in English?

We use question tags to make interrogatives for which we already know the answer. In other words, perhaps we just require an extra confirmation. For example,

  • You work here, don’t you? = We think we know the answer, so a question tag is used to obtain a quick confirmation.
  • Do you work here? = We most likely don’t know the answer, so a normal question is asked here.

Importantly, question tags are just like a normal question, only the difference with question tags is that the answer is usually assumed or known.

Furthermore, we also use question tags because we find it easier to just add a tag to the end to make a statement interrogative rather than form a question.

Above all, question tags, although fairly simple, do abide by a certain rule of code, with a few exceptions, so here we’re going to elaborate and discuss question tags in full detail.

English courses

Question tags with auxiliary verbs

  • She is a lovely person, isn’t she?
  • (*exception with the verb ‘to be’. In the first person singular, the question tag with the negative form is ‘aren’t/are not’. For example, I’m a nice lady, aren’t I? CORRECT, I’m a nice lady, am I not? INCORRECT).
  • You have sent the email, haven’t you?
  • She doesn’t want to do it, does she?
  • Mary can’t have what she wants, can she?
  • You could go, couldn’t you?
  • I may have a ride, may I not?
  • You might want to do a bit more research. mightn’t you?
  • I won’t be made to go, will I?
  • My friends shall be allowed to come, shan’t they?
  • You mustn’t cross the intersection at a red light, must you Jim?
  • We wouldn’t ever dare say a bad thing about you, would we?
  • You ought to get your car serviced, oughtn’t you?
  • The computers need to get restored, need they not?
  • You dared me, dared I not?
  • I shouldn’t be noisy in class, should I?

That is to say, all auxiliary verbs, both main auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries, when used, repeat themselves in the question tag.

Auxiliaries being: to be, to have, to do, can, could, may, might, will, shall, must, would, ought to, need to, dare to and should.

Question tags using ordinary verbs

  • She called the plumber, didn’t she?
  • Anabel likes to drink red wine, doesn’t she?
  • We don’t like to party that much, do we?
  • I listened to some music, did I not?
  • Henry worked for nine hours today, didn’t he?
  • We walked all the way to the centre, didn’t we?
  • They really don’t enjoy the cinema, do they?
  • My friend doesn’t come often, does he?
  • Michael works hard, doesn’t he?

So, for verbs that aren’t auxiliary verbs we use the main auxiliary verb ‘to do’ for all question tags. 

Exceptions to the rules, exceptions that need to be learnt by heart. 

  • Be; first person singular: ‘am‘. I am going to the mall, aren’t I?
  • (Let’s) In affirmative imperative, we use the verb ‘shall‘ and not ‘do’. ‘Let’s go to and have a look, shall we?
  • This is‘ and ‘that is‘ we use the tag ‘isn’t it‘ or ‘is it‘. This is my phone, isn’t it? That isn’t yours, is it?

See also