What is a tag question?
A tag question is type of question form which is added to a statement to invite the listener’s attention to the statement. The subject of the question tag is never a noun: it is always a pronoun.
- He is clever, isn’t he?
- You are not sure, are you?
In the above sentences, forms like ‘isn’t he’ and ‘are you’ are not actually questions; there is only an expectation of agreement.
Remember the following points:-
Affirmative statements take negative tags and negative statements take affirmative tags.
- It is unbelievable, Isn’t it?
- She did not see me yesterday, did she?
As tags are mainly used in conversation, the shortened “n’t” form is used; “isn’t he” for is he not? “didn’t he?” for did he not etc.
The subject of the tag is a pronoun and it is a substitute for the subject of the statement.
- You know her address, don’t you?
The pronoun in the tag agrees in number, gender, and person with the subject of the statement.
The appropriate form of ‘be’ is used.
- He was not there, was he?
- You are a liar, aren’t you?
- They were not active, were they?
When the verb in the affirmative statement is ‘am’ the form ‘ain’t I? or am not I/ is not used. Instead, aren’t I? is used. When the verb in the negative statement is ‘am not’ ‘am I? is used.
- I am a doctor, aren’t I? (Not arn’t I) But
- I am not a doctor, am I?
In the case of linking verbs other than ‘be’ the appropriate form of ‘do’ in the statement is repeated: the appropriate form of model auxiliary is repeated, if the verb has a model auxiliary.
- Sugar dissolves in water, doesn’t it?
- He became the secretary, didn’t he?
- He didn’t speak the truth, did he?
- He will not come now, will he?
SOME RULES TO BE FOLLOWED WHILE MAKING QUESTION TAGS.
1. A negative tag is added to an affirmative statement while an affirmative tag is added to a negative statement.
It may be noted that it is not only the negative verb that forms a negative sentence. It is rather the essence or idea of the sentence. The negative idea may be conveyed by the following always. So it takes an affirmative tag.
A negative subject:-
- None of the clothes were washed, were they?
- None of the food was wasted, was it?
A negative object:-
- We saw none in the room, did we?
- We saw no one we knew, did we?
A negative complement:-
A petty loss like that is nothing, is it?
A negative adverb:
Morality is found nowhere these days, is it?
A semi-negative word like few, hardly, little, rarely, scarcely, seldom.
- Few students attended the lecture, did they?
- There is hardly any flower on the tree, is there?
- Little progress has been made in the project, has it?
- Rarely does she visit a temple, does she?
- He is scarcely aware of the tragedy, is he?
- They seldom see each other nowadays, do they?
2. A positive idea – a negative tag:
A few and a little convey a positive idea. A negative is added to them.
- A few boys went for the picnic, didn’t they?
- A little effort has been made to solve this problem, hasn’t it?
3. Although the adverb ‘only’ has a positive approach too and may take even a negative tag, it is generally considered on the negative side and usually takes a positive tag.
- There were only two horses left in the stable, were there?
4. In the imperative sentences:
If they are simple requests, they usually take ‘will you? Both the positive and the negative requests take “Will you”? irrespective of the verb.
- Give me a glass of water, will you please?
- Don’t keep me waiting so long, will you?
If they are invitations or suggestions, they may also take ‘will you?
- Please have lunch with me tomorrow, will you?
If the imperative expresses urgency, use won’t you?
- Be careful when you open the soda, won’t you?
A suggestion that uses ‘let us’ takes shall we? in the tag.
- Let’s go out for a walk, shall we?
- Let’s wait till we get confirmation of this rumour, shall we?
If the imperative expresses the idea of impatience, it takes ‘cannot you’? in the tag.
- Use your common sense, can’t you?
Although someone, somebody, everybody, everyone, Neither, nobody, are singular. For the purpose of the tag, they are usually treated as plural and take plural tags.
- Every one of these workers is a trained technician, don’t they?
- Everybody voted against him, didn’t they?
- Neither of my sisters spoke the truth, did they?
- Somebody went and warned him, didn’t they?
- Nobody came to the class, did they?
- Someone had identified the purse, hadn’t they?
‘None of’, followed by a plural noun, is treated as a plural and takes ‘they’ as the subject of the tag.
- None of the boys passed in the examination, didn’t they?
‘None of us’ has ‘we’ as the subject of the tag.
- None of us committed this crime, did we?
‘Some of us’ takes ‘we’ if the speaker includes himself in the number, but ‘they’ if he does not.
- Some of us got admission to the medical college, didn’t we?
- Some of us lost the way, didn’t we?
‘Some of you’ takes ‘you’ in the tag.
- Some of you are practising tennis, aren’t you?
If the verb ‘have’ has not been used either in the sense of possession or as a part of perfect structure the question tag takes do or did as auxiliary. ‘Used to’ also takes did.
- We have lunch at one, don’t we?
- They used to sing at twelve in the night, didn’t they?
1. The auxiliaries used in the statement are repeated in the tag with the subject according to their tense.
(i) In the present and past simple tense, do, does, or did are added in the tag.
- You want to read this book, don’t you?
- He loves you, doesn’t he?
- Raj began the quarrel, didn’t he?
In a sentence with compound verb, only the first auxiliary is used in the tag.
- He has stolen the watch, hasn’t he?
‘Need’ and ‘dare’ are rarely used in affirmative statements, if they are used, they are treated as ordinary verbs and the tags are formed with ‘do or does’
- We need to stick to our old conventions, don’t we?
The following list, in the present tense, would be helpful to the students. The same approach applies to other tenses too.
- She is in her sixties, isn’t she?
- They have a big house, haven’t they?
- Diana works hard, doesn’t she?
- He is leaving for London tomorrow, isn’t he?
- The guests have all left, haven’t they?
- She has been typing the documents for five hours, hasn’t she?
- We can do this work within five minutes, can’t we?
- They are not here, are they?
- She hasn’t a big house, has she?
- They do not waste their time, do they?
- Mohan hasn’t taken interest in this matter, has he?
- We have not been working since Monday, have we?
MODEL AUXILIARY VERB
We must not be late, must we?
- You should not drive so fast, should you?
If a personal pronoun is the subject of the statement, the same pronoun is repeated in the question tag. So is the dummy subject ‘there’.
But: if a noun or any pronoun other than a personal one subject of the statement, the tag has he, she, it or they. The generalising personal pronoun one in the statement must be followed by ‘one’ in the tag, not by ‘he’, they or you.
- One can’t be faithful to all, can one? (not can he?)