Understand English Tag Questions

Understand English Tag Questions

Imagine the following situation:

You’re in an elevator at work, and a coworker, who’s a native English speaker, walks in and smiles at you. After you push the button for floor 3, the doors close, and you both stand in silence as the elevator begins to rise. Your coworker turns to you and says, “lovely day, isn’t it?“. You freeze. Was that a question? What is she saying? How do you answer? Maybe on the outside you awkwardly smile and nod your head, but inside you’re confused and frustrated that you didn’t understand what was said.

Has this ever happened to you?

If it has happened to you, don’t worry. You’re not alone! English tag questions (lovely day, isn’t it?) are a common part of the language, especially for everyday conversations and interactions. We, native speakers, use them for many different reasons so I want you to understand how and why we use tag questions. After today, you’ll no longer feel uncomfortable in that “elevator situation”; you’ll know how to answer with confidence.

So are you ready to start your lesson? Begin with this 5 Minute English video lesson explaining the most important parts of English tag questions. When you finish, keep reading below for more examples, further explanation, and some ways to practice!

 

English Tag Questions

‘statement, + auxiliary + subject pronoun’

What are they?

Tag questions, as mentioned in the video, are incredibly common in English conversation. They are shorter versions of a question (languages are always finding shortcuts!), create variety in the dialogue, and I recommend getting comfortable using them in your daily conversation.

They are additions to a sentence (or statement), made up of an auxiliary (be, do, have, will, modals) and a subject pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, they, we) to…:

(1) ask for confirmation of information

(2) comment on a situation

(3) get unknown information (like a yes/no question). They are almost like an afterthought, just “tagged” (put) onto the end of a sentence.

How do we form a tag question?

statement + tag

The statement will follow the standard sentence structure: subject + verb + object, and the tag will have an auxiliary (see above) and subject pronoun.

You know what a statement is, don’t you?

statement = You (subject) + know (verb) + what a statement is (object)

tag = don’t (auxiliary) + you (subject pronoun)

IMPORTANT NOTES:

  • to make the tag a negative, we add ‘not’ after the auxiliary and always use a contraction
  • if the main statement is affirmative/positive, then the tag is negative.
    • EX: You know what a statement is (AFFIRMATIVE), don’t you? (NEGATIVE)
    • She was so happy, wasn’t she?
    • They have lived here forever, haven’t they?
  • if the main statement is negative, then the tag is positive.
    • EX: You’re not confused (NEGATIVE), are you? (POSITIVE)
    • He’s not traveling, is he?
    • We aren’t sitting there, are we?
  • tag questions can be used in every verb tense:
    • You have a dog, don’t you? (present)
    • You watched the video, didn’t you? (past)
    • She will be here, won’t she? (future)
    • We haven’t done that yet, have we? (present perfect)
    • They hadn’t been waiting long, had they? (past perfect progressive)
    • etc… etc….

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH AUXILIARY TO USE IN THE TAG?

If the main verb in the statement has an auxiliary, then you are going to use that same auxiliary in the tag. Let’s review a few of these example auxiliaries:

The present perfect uses the auxiliary verb: HAVE

You have visited my website before, haven’t you?

She hasn’t traveled to Italy, has she?

 The future uses the auxiliary verb: WILL

You will subscribe to this channel, won’t you?

They will complete the project, won’t they?

 Modals are auxiliary verbs, including SHOULD [can & must= ok, but not common in American English]

You should be taking notes, shouldn’t you?

I can go too, can’t I?

If the main verb in the statement is “be”, then “be” will also be used in the tag question.

You are an English student, aren’t you?

I am writing this post, aren’t I? (IMPORTANT: the subject pronoun “I” uses “aren’t” for negative tags

I am not going, am I?

They are from California, aren’t they?

However, if there are no auxiliaries, no modals, and no form of “be” as the main verb in the sentence, then you’ll use a form of the auxiliary “do”

You watch these videos every week, don’t you?

She ate her dinner already, didn’t she?

They have 4 cats, don’t they? (*NOTE: the main verb here is “HAVE”, and it is not used as an auxiliary. So, “do” is used)

 

How do we answer a TAG question?

Even though this confuses most English learners I come across, believe me it’s very easy!

You answer a tag question the same way you answer a regular (affirmative) yes/no question.

Let’s look at the examples from the beginning of the 5 Minute English video above, “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

As a yes/no question, this would be: HAVE YOU BEEN HERE BEFORE?

If you have been here, then your answer is yes: “Yes I have.”

If you have never been here, then your answer is no: “No I haven’t”

So as a tag question: YOU HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE, HAVEN’T YOU?

If the answer is YES, then: Yes I have; I watch every week!

If the answer is NO, then: No I haven’t; this is my first time.

Let’s review a few more examples…

yes/no question:  Are you reading this blog?  (Your answer is = Yes, I am.)
+ tag question: You aren’t reading this blog, are you? (Yes, I am.)
– tag question: You are reading this blog, aren’t you? (Yes, I am.)

– – – – –

yes/no question:  Are you an English student?  (Your answer is = Yes, I am.)
+ tag question: You aren’t an English student, are you? (Yes, I am.)
– tag question: You are an English student, aren’t you? (Yes, I am.)

– – – – –

yes/no question:  Is Jennifer president of the USA?  (The answer is = No, she’s not.)
+ tag question: Jennifer isn’t the president of the USA, is she? (No, she’s not.)
– tag question: Jennifer is the president of the USA, isn’t she? (No, she’s not.)

Practice Exercises

What did you understand from this lesson? Answer the following questions:

1. When the statement is positive the tag question is _____.

2. True or False: negative tags are never contractions.

3. Is “him” an OKAY pronoun to use in a tag question?

4. How do you answer a tag question?

5. If “have” is the main verb in the statement, is “have” used in the tag?

 

Complete the tag question using the correct auxiliary and tense:

1. I am writing this blog post, ________?

2. She has been working there for a long time, _______?

3. Paulo didn’t see her, _______?

4. Oliver and Lucy have a little brother, _______?

5. It’s a beautiful day, _______?


Check your answers at the bottom of this post, and please comment below: where do you think you will use tag questions?

Until next time,

Happy Studying ♥


– – – – –

– – – – –

ANSWERS
Part 1:
1. negative
2. false – they’re always contractions
3. No – “him” is an object pronoun, and only SUBJECT pronouns are used
4. the same way you answer a yes/no question
5. No, if “have” is the main verb, use a form of the auxiliary “do”. “Have” is only used in the tag if it’s an auxiliary verb
Part 2:
1. aren’t I?
2. hasn’t she?
3. did he?
4. don’t they?
5. isn’t it?

This article elaborates on this post from last year during my travel series.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Zahidul Islam Khan on November 19, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    Very informative and useful.

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