questions, and when are they used?
1. Definition and function
questions - also referred to as
tags - are very common, particularly in spoken
English. They are
interrogative tags that can be added to the end of a declarative
Tags are usually added to a statement in order to
possibility or probability.
Although they use an
interrogative structure, tags are not real questions. They are requests
for confirmation... or sometimes for contradiction.
2. Tag structures
2.1. Normal structure of tags
Question tags are normally formed on the model verb
> pronoun subject.
They are placed at the end of the sentence or clause. Using a
standard interrogative inversion, they repeat the auxiliary used with
the main verb and the pronoun corresponding to the subject of the main
verb, as in these simple examples
That man is
good book, isn't he?
Those students have passed their exams, haven't they ?
They didn't go to London last week, did they?
2.2. Standard tags
In standard tags, it is important to note that there is
always an opposition between affirmation
If the main verb is in the affirmative, the tag will be in the negative
: conversely, if the main verb is in the negative, the tag
be in the affirmative.
That lady is
good book, isn't she?
Those students haven't passed their exams, have they ?
2.3. "True-question" tags
but not often, speakers use "same-way tags", or "true-question" tags
where there is no opposition between affirmation and negation. They are
normally used in affirmative contexts: in this case both the
the tag are in the
affirmative. The speaker is either really asking for an
else expressing doubt about the truth of the statement.
That lady is
good book, is she?
is important to remember that "same-way tags", or "true-question" tags
are not common. It is useful to know that they exist, and what they
mean; but students of English are best advised not to use them unless
they are really sure that they understand the nuances or implications.
Meaning either: Is that lady actually reading a
good book ?
I am really questioning whether that is a good book; I don't
think it is.
Those students have passed their exams, have they ?
Meaning : Have those students
passed their exams? That's surprising.
3. Formation and use of tags
Tags are placed at the end of a statement
sentence; they are formed by repeating the auxiliary (be,
do - examples
1-6 ) or
the modal auxiliary (can,
must, might etc. examples
7 - 12)
used with the main verb, followed by a pronoun corresponding to the
subject of the main verb. As stated in 2.2. above, there is normally an
affirmative/negative contrast between the main verb and the tag.
If the main verb does not use an auxiliary (i.e it is in the simple
present or simple past tense), the tag will be formed using a form of
the auxiliary do,
just like the interrogative and negative forms of these tenses.
- The Queen's over 80, isn't
- Those new shoes weren't very
were they ?
- You've remembered all the
haven't you ?
- The kids hadn't had anything to eat,
- You did remember to turn off the gas,
didn't you ?
- The secretary didn't like the new
- He can sing quite well, can't he ?
- You can't come to the concert
- We shouldn't continue without the
should we ?
- You really ought to get permission
- You couldn't understand anything he
could you ?
- The students really have to work
don't they ? *
example 12 : tags following the modal
" (as opposed to the past
are forms of
the auxiliary do
even if the main verb is in the
If the main verb is accompanied by several auxiliaries,
modal auxiliaries, the tag reflects back to the first of the
- The Queen lives in
Palace, doesn't she ?
- Those new shoes look very expensive,
- You remembered all the instructions,
- You went to school in London, didn't
- This one looks rather interesting,
- People who eat too much get fat,
example 6 : the tag reflects the main
of the sentence of course; get
Used with reported
and similar structures, it is important to remember that the tag
reflects the main verb
of the sentence, not the verb of the reported speech.
- The Queen might
have been in
Palace, mightn't she ?
- You should
paying more attention,
shouldn't you ?
- They could
have lost all
their money in Las
Vegas, couldn't they ?
- He ought
to have been
able to answer all
the questions, oughtn't he?
- He might
have had to
buy a new computer,
mightn't he ?
- They can't
have had to
stop already, can
- He said
you were very clever, didn't
- It looks
like we ought to be getting out of
here quickly, doesn't
- They didn't
think it was particularly easy,
- The judge believes
that the accused is
- You were
telling us about what you
did in New York, weren't you
- You don't think
there's anything wrong with
my idea, do
Alternative form of negative tags
Just occasionally people express negative tags without contracting the
! In uncontracted tags, the word order is
different, as NOT follows the verb: Compare the following:
good, isn't it / It's good, is
it not ?
These uncontracted tags are used commonly in Scotland, but not in
They're very late, aren't they / They're very late, are they not ?
You've seen the exhibition, haven't you / You've seen the exhibition, have you not ?