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Tag Questions

 


You speak English, don't you?

A tag question is a special construction in English. It is a statement followed by a mini-question. We use tag questions to ask for confirmation. They mean something like: "Is that right?" or "Do you agree?" They are very common in English.

The basic structure of a tag question is:

positive statementnegative tag
Snow is white,isn't it?
negative statementpositive tag
You don't like me,do you?

Notice that the tag repeats the auxiliary verb (or main verb when be) from the statement and changes it to negative or positive.

Positive Statement Tag Questions

Look at these examples with positive statements. You will see that most of the time, the auxiliary verb from the positive statement is repeated in the tag and changed to negative.

(+) positive statement(-) negative tag
subjectauxiliarymain verb auxiliarynotpersonal pronoun same as subject
Youarecoming, aren'tyou?
Wehavefinished, haven'twe?
Youdolikecoffee,don'tyou?
You likecoffee,don'tyou?
Theywillhelp, won'tthey?
Icancome, can'tI?
Wemustgo, mustn'twe?
Heshouldtryharder,shouldn'the?
You areEnglish,aren'tyou?
John wasthere,wasn'the?
Notice:
  • the use of do in the two coffee questions. Remember that in Present Simple, do is optional in positive statements (You like coffee/You do like coffee). But the do must appear in the tag. The same applies to Past Simple did.
  • in last two questions, no auxiliary for main verb be in Present Simple and Past Simple. The tag repeats the main verb.

Negative Statement Tag Questions

Look at these examples with negative statements. Notice that the negative verb in the original statement is changed to positive in the tag.

(-) negative statement(+) positive tag
subjectauxiliary main verb  auxiliarypersonal pronoun same as subject
Itisn'training,  isit?
Wehaveneverseen that,havewe?
Youdon'tlike coffee,doyou?
Theywillnothelp,  willthey?
Theywon'treport us,willthey?
Icanneverdo it right,canI?
Wemustn'ttell her,mustwe?
Heshouldn'tdrive so fast,shouldhe?
Youwon'tbe late,willyou?
You  aren'tEnglish,areyou?
John  wasnotthere,washe?
Notice:
  • won't is the contracted form of will not
  • the tag repeats the auxiliary verb, not the main verb. Except, of course, for the verb be in Present Simple and Past Simple.

Answering Tag Questions

How do we answer a tag question? Often, we just say Yes or No. Sometimes we may repeat the tag and reverse it (They don't live here, do they? Yes, they do). Be very careful about answering tag questions. In some languages, an opposite system of answering is used, and non-native English speakers sometimes answer in the wrong way. This can lead to a lot of confusion!

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