Question tag

Tag question

A question tag or tag question is a grammatical structure in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment (the "tag"). The term "question tag" is generally preferred by British grammarians, while their American counterparts prefer "tag question".

Forms and uses
In most languages, tag questions are more common in colloquial spoken usage than in formal written usage. They can be an indicator of politeness, emphasis, or irony. They may suggest confidence or lack of confidence; they may be confrontational or tentative. Some examples showing the wide variety of structure possible in English are:
• Open the window, will you?
• She doesn't really want those apples, does she?
• You'd better stop now, hadn't you?
• So you thought it would be a good idea to reprogram the computer, did you?
• It's quite an achievement, isn't it, to win a Nobel prize!
• Oh I must, must I?
• I just adore Beethoven, don't you?
• I'm coming with you, all right?
• You've been there, right?
• Easier said than done, eh?
• You went there, no?

Some languages have a fixed phrase for the tag question, such as Russian не правда ли? (not true?), French n'est-ce pas? ("is it not?") and German (known as "Rückfrageverisicherungen") nicht wahr?, "nicht?", "ja?", "ne?", "richtig?",gell?, or simply oder?. Standard English tag questions, on the other hand, are constructed afresh for every sentence, and are therefore quite variable: have I? did you? won't we? etc. A similar pattern is found in the Celtic languages. A tag question need not have the grammatical form of a question (will you?); an adverb or adverbial may serve the purpose instead: right? all right? surely? OK? eh? German often uses oder? ("or") and ja? ("yes") as tag questions.

Care should be taken by the confident speaker to make certain that any tag questions are not mistaken for a leading question. The frequency with which Londoners use isn't it sounds strange to American ears and can be mistaken for manipulation.

Tag questions in English

English tag questions, when they have the grammatical form of a question, are atypically complex, because they vary according to four factors: the choice of auxiliary, the negation, the intonation pattern and the emphasis.


The English tag question is made up of an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. The auxiliary has to agree with the tense, aspect and modality of the verb in the preceding sentence. If the verb is in the perfect tense, for example, the tag question uses has or have; if the verb is in a present progressive form, the tag is formed with am, are, is; if the verb is in a tense which does not normally use an auxiliary, like the present simple, the auxiliary is taken from the emphatic do form; and if the sentence has a modal auxiliary, this is echoed in the tag:
• He's read this book, hasn't he?
• He read this book, didn't he?
• He's reading this book, isn't he?
• He reads a lot of books, doesn't he?
• He'll read this book, won't he?
• He should read this book, shouldn't he?
• He can read this book, can't he?
A special case occurs when the main verb is to be in a simple tense. Here the tag question repeats the main verb, not an auxiliary:
• This is a book, isn't it?
(Not doesn't it?, as the normal rules for present simple would suggest.)
If the main verb is to have, either solution is possible:
• He has a book, hasn't he?
• He has a book, doesn't he?


English tag questions may contain a negation, but need not. When there is no special emphasis, the rule of thumb often applies that a positive sentence has a negative tag and vice versa:
• She is French, isn't she?
• She's not French, is she?
These are sometimes called "balanced tag questions". However, it has been estimated that in normal conversation, as many as 40%-50%[1] of tags break this rule. "Unbalanced tag questions" (positive to positive or negative to negative) may be used for ironic or confrontational effects:
• Do listen, will you?
• Oh, I'm lazy, am I?
• Jack: I refuse to spend Sunday at your mother's house! Jill: Oh you do, do you? We'll see about that!
• Jack: I just won't go back! Jill: Oh you won't, won't you?
Patterns of negation can show regional variations. In North East Scotland, for example, positive to positive is used when no special effect is desired:
• This pizza's fine, is it? (standard English: This pizza's delicious, isn't it?)
Note the following variations in the negation when the auxiliary is the I form of the copula:
• England (and America, Australia, etc.): Clever, aren't I?
• Scotland/Northern Ireland: Clever, amn't I?
• nonstandard dialects: Clever, ain't I?


English tag questions can have a rising or a falling intonation pattern. This is contrasted with Polish, French or German, for example, where all tags rise. As a rule, the English rising pattern is used when soliciting information or motivating an action, that is, when some sort of response is required. Since normal English yes/no questions have rising patterns (e.g. Are you coming?), these tags make a grammatical statement into a real question:
• You're coming, aren't you?
• Do listen, will you?
• Let's have a beer, shall we?
The falling pattern is used to underline a statement. The statement itself ends with a falling pattern, and the tag sounds like an echo, strengthening the pattern. Most English tag questions have this falling pattern.
• He doesn't know what he's doing, does he?
• This is really boring, isn't it?
Sometimes the rising tag goes with the positive to positive pattern to create a confrontational effect:
• He was the best in the class, was he? (rising: the speaker is challenging this thesis, or perhaps expressing surprised interest)
• He was the best in the class, wasn't he? (falling: the speaker holds this opinion)
• Be careful, will you? (rising: expresses irritation)
• Take care, won't you? (falling: expresses concern)
Sometimes the same words may have different patterns depending on the situation or implication.
• You don't remember my name, do you? (rising: expresses surprise)
• You don't remember my name, do you? (falling: expresses amusement or resignation)
• Your name's Mary, isn't it? (rising: expresses uncertainty)
• Your name's Mary, isn't it? (falling: expresses confidence)
It is interesting that as an all-purpose tag the London set-phrase innit (for "isn't it") is only used with falling patterns:
• He doesn't know what he's doing, innit?
• He was the best in the class, innit?
On the other hand, the adverbial tag questions (alright? OK? etc.) are almost always found with rising patterns. An occasional exception is surely.


English tag questions are normally stressed on the verb, but the stress is on the pronoun if there is a change of person.
• I don't like peas, do you?
• I like peas, don't you?
This is often a rising tag (especially when the tag contains no negation), or the intonation pattern may be the typically English fall-rise.
In French, this would be expressed with et toi?, which is also a kind of tag question.

Variant forms

There are a number of variant forms that exist in particular dialects of English. These are generally invariant, regardless of verb, person or negativity.
The tag right? is essentially equivalent to the Spanish ¿verdad?. It is common in a number of dialects across the UK and US.
The tag eh? is of Scottish origin, and can be heard across much of Scotland, New Zealand, Canada and the North-Eastern United States. In Central Scotland (in and around Stirling and Falkirk), this exists in the form eh no? which is again invariant.

False tag in Welsh English

It is often erroneously assumed that Welsh speakers of English use a tag question to make an emphatic statement, eg: Lovely day, isn't it?
However, this is instead a cleft sentence of the form: Lovely day, is in it.
This has its roots in the Welsh language, and this type of cleft features in all extant Celtic languages. The lack of verb at the start of this construction coupled with the lack of rising intonation mark this as distinct from tag questions, which are used in Welsh English in the same manner as the majority of the UK.

source from: wikipedia

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