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Autor:  Fran
E-mail:  não-disponível
Data:  19/MAI/2011 5:42 PM
Assunto:  tag question
 
Mensagem:  I don't know who authored this material otherwise I would have given the author credit.

 

Tag Questions

You speak English, don't you?

A tag question is a special construction in English. It is a statement followed by a mini-question. The whole sentence is a "tag question", and the mini-question at the end is called a "question tag".

A "tag" is something small that we add to something larger. For example, the little piece of cloth added to a shirt showing size or washing instructions is a tag.

We use tag questions at the end of statements to ask for confirmation. They mean something like: "Am I right?" or "Do you agree?" They are very common in English.

The basic structure is:

+
Positive statement,

-
negative tag?

Snow is white,

isn't it?

-
Negative statement,

+
positive tag?

You don't like me,

do you?

Look at these examples with positive statements:

positive statement [+]

negative tag [-]

notes:

subject

auxiliary

main verb

 

auxiliary

not

personal
pronoun
(same as subject)

 

You

are

coming,

 

are

n't

you?

 

We

have

finished,

 

have

n't

we?

 

You

do

like

coffee,

do

n't

you?

 

You

 

like

coffee,

do

n't

you?

You (do) like...

They

will

help,

 

wo

n't

they?

won't = will not

I

can

come,

 

can

't

I?

 

We

must

go,

 

must

n't

we?

 

He

should

try

harder,

should

n't

he?

 

You

 

are

English,

are

n't

you?

no auxiliary for main verb be present & past

John

 

was

there,

was

n't

he?

Look at these examples with negative statements:

negative statement [-]

positive tag [+]

subject

auxiliary

 

main verb

 

 

auxiliary

personal
pronoun
(same as subject)

It

is

n't

raining,

 

 

is

it?

We

have

never

seen

 

that,

have

we?

You

do

n't

like

 

coffee,

do

you?

They

will

not

help,

 

 

will

they?

They

wo

n't

report

 

us,

will

they?

I

can

never

do

 

it right,

can

I?

We

must

n't

tell

 

her,

must

we?

He

should

n't

drive

 

so fast,

should

he?

You

 

 

are

n't

English,

are

you?

John

 

 

was

not

there,

was

he?

Some special cases:

I am right, aren't I?

aren't I (not amn't I)

You have to go, don't you?

you (do) have to go...

I have been answering, haven't I?

use first auxiliary

Nothing came in the post, did it?

treat statements with nothing, nobody etc like negative statements

Let's go, shall we?

let's = let us

He'd better do it, hadn't he?

he had better (no auxiliary)

Here are some mixed examples:

  • But you don't really love her, do you?
  • This will work, won't it?
  • Well, I couldn't help it, could I?
  • But you'll tell me if she calls, won't you?
  • We'd never have known, would we?
  • The weather's bad, isn't it?
  • You won't be late, will you?
  • Nobody knows, do they?

Notice that we often use tag questions to ask for information or help, starting with a negative statement. This is quite a friendly/polite way of making a request. For example, instead of saying "Where is the police station?" (not very polite), or "Do you know where the police station is?" (slightly more polite), we could say: "You wouldn't know where the police station is, would you?" Here are some more examples:

  • You don't know of any good jobs, do you?
  • You couldn't help me with my homework, could you?
  • You haven't got $10 to lend me, have you?

Intonation

We can change the meaning of a tag question with the musical pitch of our voice. With rising intonation, it sounds like a real question. But if our intonation falls, it sounds more like a statement that doesn't require a real answer:

 

intonation

 

You don't know where my wallet is,

do you?

/ rising

real question

It's a beautiful view,

isn't it?

\ falling

not a real question

Answers to tag questions

A question tag is the "mini-question" at the end. A tag question is the whole sentence.

How do we answer a tag question? Often, we just say Yes or No. Sometimes we may repeat the tag and reverse it (..., do they? Yes, they do). Be very careful about answering tag questions. In some languages, an opposite system of answering is used, and non-native English speakers sometimes answer in the wrong way. This can lead to a lot of confusion!

Answer a tag question according to the truth of the situation. Your answer reflects the real facts, not (necessarily) the question.

For example, everyone knows that snow is white. Look at these questions, and the correct answers:

tag question

correct answer

 

 

Snow is white, isn't it?

Yes (it is).

the answer is the same in both cases - because snow IS WHITE!

but notice the change of stress when the answerer does not agree with the questioner

Snow isn't white, is it?

Yes it is!

Snow is black, isn't it?

No it isn't!

the answer is the same in both cases - because snow IS NOT BLACK!

Snow isn't black, is it?

No (it isn't).

In some languages, people answer a question like "Snow isn't black, is it?" with "Yes" (meaning "Yes, I agree with you"). This is the wrong answer in English!

Here are some more examples, with correct answers:

  • The moon goes round the earth, doesn't it? Yes, it does.
  • The earth is bigger than the moon, isn't it? Yes.
  • The earth is bigger than the sun, isn't it? No, it isn't!
  • Asian people don't like rice, do they? Yes, they do!
  • Elephants live in Europe, don't they? No, they don't!
  • Men don't have babies, do they? No.
  • The English alphabet doesn't have 40 letters, does it? No, it doesn't.

Question tags with imperatives

Sometimes we use question tags with imperatives (invitations, orders), but the sentence remains an imperative and does not require a direct answer. We use won't for invitations. We use can, can't, will, would for orders.

 

imperative + question tag

notes:

invitation

Take a seat, won't you?

polite

order

Help me, can you?

quite friendly

Help me, can't you?

quite friendly (some irritation?)

Close the door, would you?

quite polite

Do it now, will you?

less polite

Don't forget, will you?

with negative imperatives only will is possible

Same-way question tags

Although the basic structure of tag questions is positive-negative or negative-positive, it is sometime possible to use a positive-positive or negative-negative structure. We use same-way question tags to express interest, surprise, anger etc, and not to make real questions.

  • So you're having a baby, are you? That's wonderful!
  • She wants to marry him, does she? Some chance!
  • So you think that's amusing, do you? Think again.

Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:

  • So you don't like my looks, don't you?

Now check your understanding >


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 English Made in Brazil -- English, Portuguese, & contrastive linguistics
tag question  –  andre_ulrich  19/MAI/2011, 4:26 PM
tag question  –  Dale-USA  19/MAI/2011, 5:20 PM
tag question  –  Fran  19/MAI/2011, 5:37 PM
 tag question  –  Fran  19/MAI/2011, 5:42 PM
tag question  –  Dale-USA  19/MAI/2011, 7:30 PM
tag question  –  Dale-USA  19/MAI/2011, 7:33 PM
tag question  –  Fran  20/MAI/2011, 5:05 PM
tag question - Fran  –  Dale-USA  24/MAI/2011, 1:59 PM

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