THE QUESTION TAGS
There are short additions to sentences, asking for agreement or confirmation.
- After negative statements we use the ordinary interrogative:
You didn’t see him, did you?
Ann can’t swim, can she?
That isn’t Tom, is it?
After affirmative statements we use the negative interrogative:
Peter helped you, didn’t he?
Mary was there, wasn’t she?
Negative verbs in the tags are usually contracted.
Irregular: I’m late, aren’t I?
Note that let’s has the tag shall: let’s go, shall we?
The subject of the tag is always a pronoun.
- Examples of question tags after negative statements:
Peter doesn’t smoke, does he?
Ann isn’t studying music, is she?
Bill didn’t want to go, did he?
James wasn’t driving the car, was he?
You haven’t ridden a horse for a long time, have you?
The twins hadn’t seen a hovercraft before, had they?
They couldn’t understand him, could they?
There wasn’t enough time, was there?
People shouldn’t drop litter on pavements, should they?
Ann hasn’t got colour TV, has she?
Note that statements containing words such as neither, no (adjective), none, no one, nobody, nothing, scarcely, barely, hardly, hardly ever, seldom are treated as negative statements and followed by an ordinary interrogative tag:
No salt is allowed, is it?
Nothing was said, was it?
Peter hardly ever goes to parties, does he?
When the subject of the sentence is anyone, anybody, no one, nobody, none, neither we use the pronoun they as subject of the tag:
I don’t suppose anyone will volunteer, will they?
No one would object, would they?
Neither of them complained, did they?
- Question tags after affirmative statements:
With the simple present tense we use don’t/doesn’t? In the tag. With the simple past tense we use didn’t?
Edward lives here, doesn’t he?
You found your passport, didn’t you?
After all other tenses we just put the auxiliary verb into the negative interrogative:
Mary’s coming tomorrow, isn’t she?
Peter’s heard the news, hasn’t he?
Remember that ‘s = is or has, and ‘d = had or would:
Peter’d written before you phoned, hadn’t he?
Mary’d come if you asked her, wouldn’t she?
You’d better change your wet shoes, hadn’t you?
The boys’d rather go by air, wouldn’t they?
With everybody, everyone, somebody, someone we use the pronoun they:
Everyone warned you, didn’t they?
Someone had recognized him, hadn’t they?
Negative interrogative tags without contractions are possible but the word order is different:
You saw him, did you not?
This is a much less usuall form.
When question tags are used the speaker doesn’t normally need information but merely expects agreement. These tags are therefore usually said with a falling intonation, as in statements.
Sometimes, however, the speaker does want information. He is not quite sure that the statement is true, and wants to be reassured. In this case the question tag is said with a rising intonation and the important word in the first sentence is stressed, usually with a rise of pitch.
- These are formed with auxiliary verbs, just like question tags, but after an affirmative statement we use an ordinary interrogative tag: after a negative statement we use a negative interrogative tag.
A comment tag can be added to an affirmative statement. It then indicates that the speaker notes the fact.
You saw him, did you? = Oh, so you saw him.
You’ve found a job, have you? = Oh, so you’ve found a job.
Comment tags can also be spoken in answer to an affirmative or negative statement:
I’m living in London now. ~ Are you?
I didn’t pay Paul. ~ Didn’t you?
When used in this way the tag is roughly equivalent to Really! Or Indeed!
- The chief use of these tags is to express the speaker’s reaction to a statement. By the tone of his voice he can indicate that he is interested, not interested, surprised, pleased, delighted, angry, suspicious, disbelieving etc.
The speaker’s feeling can be expressed more forcibly by adding an auxiliary:
I borrowed your car. ~ Oh, you did, did you?
I didn’t think you’d need it. ~ Oh, you didn’t, didn’t you?
i.e. before an ordinary interrogative we use an affirmative auxiliary verb, before a negative interrogative we use a negative verb.
Again, the meaning depends on the tone of voice used. The speaker may be very angry, even truculent; but the form could also express admiration or amusement.