Tag questions: explanation, rules and examples

At tag questions, also called question tags, they are short questions used at the end of a sentence to request confirmation of information said in the previous sentence.

The sentence before the comma usually expresses an uncertain idea and the sentence after the comma (the question tag), has the function of obtaining confirmation of this possibility.

In Portuguese, it is also common to use questions at the end of a sentence to try to confirm information we are not sure of.

It is very common, even, to make such confirmation through the use of certain words or phrases such as huh, right, Is not it and it is not.

Formation of tag questions

One of the main features of tag questions is that if the verb is in the affirmative in the sentence before the comma, the question tag will present the verb in the negative and vice versa.

To know which verb/auxiliary should be used in tag question, just pass the sentence before the comma to the interrogative form.

Example:

They play the guitar, don't they? (They play guitar, don't they?)

affirmative: They play the guitar. (They play guitar.)

Interrogative: Do they play the guitar? (Do they play guitar?)

Soon, the question tag will be done with the assistant of. As the phrase is in the affirmative, we use the negative form of of: don’t.

See another example of this relationship between affirmative and negative forms:

Sally isn’t Doug’s sister, is she? (Sally isn't Doug's sister, is she?)

Notice that the verb in the sentence before the question tag is in negative form (isnt) and therefore the verb of question tag "is she?" is in the affirmative (is).

Verb tense used in tag questions

One very important thing about tag questions it is the observation of the tense used in the sentence that precedes the comma.

It will indicate if the verb da question tag it will be used in the present, the past, the future, etc.

See some examples of tag questions in different verb tenses:

question tags at the Simple Present

  • He usually doesn’t eat vegetables, does he? (He doesn't usually eat vegetables, does he?)
  • She works out every morning, doesn’t she? (She exercises every morning, doesn't she?)
Tag question with Simple Present
Translation: "Mealtime!" "He looks great, doesn't he? "She actually looked better from a distance!"


question tags at the Simple Past

  • He wasn’t invited for her party, was he? (He wasn't invited to her party, was he?)
  • They studied together, didn’t they? (They studied together, didn't they?)

question tags in the future with going to

  • She is going to travel to New York next week, isn’t she? (She's going to be traveling to New York next week, isn't she?)
  • Brazil is not going to play against Argentina, is it? (Brazil won't play Argentina, will they?)

question tags in the future with will

  • She will travel to New York next week, won’t she? (She's going to be traveling to New York next week, isn't she?)
  • Brazil will not play against Argentina, will it? (Brazil won't play Argentina, will they?)

know more about Simple Future and Will and Going to.

question tags at the Present Continuous

  • She is watching the game, isnt she? (She's watching the game, isn't she?)
  • They aren’t studying, are they? (They're not studying, are they?)

question tags at the Past Continuous

  • She was watching the game, wasn’t she? (She was watching the game, wasn't she?)
  • They weren’t studying, were they? (They weren't studying, were they?)

question tags at the Present Perfect

  • She has visited Paris many times, hasn’t she? (She visited Paris several times, didn't she?)
  • We have lived here since 2007, haven’t we? (We've lived here since 2007, haven't we?)

question tags at the Past Perfect

  • She had already left when I arrived, hadn’t she? (She had already left when I arrived, hadn't she?)
  • You hadn’t saved the file before the computer crashed, had you? (You didn't save the file before the computer crashed, did you?)

question tags with modal verbs

  • She can speak Italian, can't she? (She can speak Italian, can't she?)
  • She wouldn't like to see me, would she? (She wouldn't want to see me, would she?)
  • He should call the police, shouldn’t he? (He should call the police, shouldn't he?)

Note that it is not common to build tag questions with the modal verbs may, might and must.

As we saw above, the tag questions are used to confirm an uncertainty or possibility.

As these verbs by themselves already express possibility, their use in a question tag not recommended.

Special cases of formation of tag questions

See below some special cases of tag questions:

question tags after verb in imperative mode

See below how the tag questions placed after a sentence with an imperative verb are made:

For tag questions formal, we use will or would.

Examples:

  • Lock the door, will you? (Lock the door, can you?)
  • Close the window, would you? (Close the window, would you?)

For tag questions informal, we use please or OK.

Examples:

  • Bring me a napkin, please? (Bring me a napkin, please?)
  • Stop annoying me, OK? (Stop bugging me, OK?)

question tags after expressions that indicate opinion

When the sentence before the comma has an expression that indicates opinion (I don’t think…, i think…, I suppose…, I feelI guess…), just ignore the expression.

Pass the rest of the sentence to the interrogative and you will know which verb to use to form the question tag.

Example:

I think she is very nice, isn't she? (I think she's pretty cool, isn't she?)

question tags after suggestion

When the sentence before the comma uses the word let's (let's) to express a suggestion, the question tag must be done with shall we (come on, how about, what do you think).

Example:

Let's invite them, shall we? (Let's invite them, what do you think?)

question tags after use of undefined pronouns

When the sentence before the comma presents as subject everybody, everyone, somebody, someone, nobody or no one, a question tag must be done with the personal pronoun they (they).

Example:

Everybody loves going to the beach, don't they? (Everyone loves going to the beach, don't they?)

If however the indefinite pronoun used is nothing, the personal pronoun must be used it (this, this, etc.)

Example:

Nothing is going right, is it? (Nothing is going right, is it?)

question tags with pronoun I + verb to be in the negative

When the subject of the sentence before the comma is I (I) and the accompanying verb is in the affirmative form, instead of using an inflection of am, a question tag of the subject I (I) is made with aren't.

Example:

I am too tall, aren’t I? (I'm pretty tall, aren't I?)

Note that this exception only applies to I gives question tag in negative form.

The formation of question tag with verb in the affirmative, use the am normally.

Example:

I am not too tall, am I? (I'm not very tall, am I?)

Exercises

Now that you know what they are tag questions, test your knowledge with the exercises below:

1. (UniCEUB-2014) Choose the correct tag to finish the sentence.

“Yes. we should. Did you take the number of the cab?"
"At the. You didn't notice it, ____________ ?"

Extracted from The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassan.

a) did you
b) I didn't
c) of you
d) of the I
e) didn't you

Correct alternative: a) did you

2. (Prefeitura do Sul do Brasil/SC-2017) Observe the statements and mark the correct alternative:

I. He never came back, ______?
II. She can rarely eat these days, _______?
III. The boys were playing soccer, _________?

Respectively, the correct order is:

a) doesn't he/can't she/didn't they
b) didn't he/can't she/weren't they
c) does he/can't she/weren't they
d) did he/can she/didn't they
e) did he/can she/weren't they

Correct alternative: e) did he/can she/weren't they

3. (SEDU/ES-2016) He enjoys Brazilian food. He has tried tapioca, _________?

a) hasn’t it
b) she hadn't
c) doesn't he
d) hasn't he
e) haven't you

Correct alternative: d) hasn't he

4. (SEE/AC-2014) Read these sentences:

1. The students are learning English for business reasons, __________?
2. Refugees and immigrants need to learn the English language, __________?
3. Mary studies English because she wants to travel to England, __________?

The correct question tags that complete the sentences above are, respectively:

a) are they/do they/does she
b) are not they / do not they / she does not she
c) are they / need not they / she does not she
d) are not they / do not they / she is not she
e) aren’t they/needn’t they/isn’t she

Correct alternative: b) are n’t they / do n’t they / she does n’t she

5. (SEE-AC) Read the sentences:

1. Laura is at the airport, _______________?
2. She wants to visit the bathroom, _______________?
3. Laura doesn’t understand, _______________?
The question tags that complete the sentences above are, respectively:

a) is she/does she/does she
b) she isn’t/she doesn’t want/she understands
c) where is she / she does she she want / does she understand
d) isn’t she/doesn’t she/does she
e) isn’t she/does she/doesn’t she

Correct alternative: d) isn’t she/doesn’t she/does she

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