Grammar Basics: Question Tags

It is a common practice in conversation to make a statement and ask for confirmation at the end of it. Here comes the role of question tags. Question tags are generally used in spoken English.
What are Question Tags?
Question tags are short questions used at the end of the statements to confirm if the statement is true or not. It may also be used to evoke a reply from the person you are speaking to. The subject of a question tag is always a pronoun.
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E.g. It’s very hot, isn’t it?
Question tags are used in a number of ways: negative or positive, with or without auxiliary verb, with modal verb, etc.
1. Negative question tag
If the main sentence is positive, the question tag should be negative. The pattern followed by a negative question tag is:
auxiliary + n’t + subject
Examples of Negative question tag:
  • You are free, aren’t you?
  • George broke the glass, didn’t he?
  • Your sister cooks well, doesn’t she?
  • She can swim well, can’t she?
2. Positive question tag
If the main sentence is negative, the question tag should be positive. The pattern followed by a positive question tag is:
auxiliary + subject
Examples of Positive question tag:
  • You aren’t busy, are you?
  • He can’t drive, can he?
  • Mohit doesn’t work hard, does he?
  • They haven’t come yet, have they?
3. Question tags with auxiliary verb

If there is an auxiliary verb (be, have, do, is, etc.) in the main sentence, the question tag also contains the same auxiliary verb.

E.g. It’s raining, isn’t it?

Similarly, if there is a modal verb (could, can, should, etc.) in the main sentence, the question tag is also constructed with the same modal verb.

E.g. They couldn’t hear him, could they?

4. Question tags without auxiliary verb
In case, the main part of the sentence doesn’t contain an auxiliary verb, the question tag is constructed with the relevant form of ‘do’. E.g. He eats fish, doesn’t he?
Exceptions in question tags:

There are certain peculiarities in the usage of question tags that doesn’t follow the above mentioned rules. Examples:

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  • I am right, aren’t I?
  • Let’s go to the beach, shall we?
  • Wait a minute, can you?
  • Have some more rice, will you?
  • Somebody has called, haven’t they?
  • There is a mosque in that street, isn’t there?
Additionally, the intonation of question tags in spoken English varies. In case of a real question, you speak with a rising intonation while if you already know the answer, you speak with a falling intonation.
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