A question tag is a question that comes at the end of a sentence. In this lesson, we will learn about question tags and go through a series of examples to get a firm hold on this English language grammar concept.
What Is a Question Tag?
English is pretty complicated, isn’t it? See what just happened there? A question tag was added to the end of that sentence, and it sort of gave you the answer at the same time. Questions tags are funny little add-ons in the English language that allow you to make a statement, and then end with a question.
They are important in spoken language because they allow the speaker to provide information to the listener, so they can respond properly. In order to make a proper question tag, a few rules must be followed. In this lesson, we will learn the ins and outs of question tags and get some practice by looking at several examples.Simply put, a question tag (also known as a tag question) is a clause that turns a statement into a question.
A question tag is made up of the statement, a comma, and the question clause. The question tag is usually built by combining an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. Keep in mind an auxiliary verb is either a ‘to have’ or ‘to be’ verb. In a question tag, the auxiliary verb matches the verb used in the declarative statement.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.When creating a question tag, the verb in the statement must be taken into account. For example, if the statement’s verb is positive, then the verb in the question tag is negative. Likewise, if the statement’s verb is negative, then the verb in the question tag is positive. For example:
- The weather is nice outside today, isn’t it?
- The clouds aren’t coming back, are they?
Let’s take a look at the varying circumstances in which a question tag can be added to a sentence.
Question Tags and Auxiliary Verbs
The most common way to form a question tag is to use a pair of auxiliary verbs. Remember, an auxiliary verb is either a ‘to have’ or ‘to be’ verb. In sentences that have a question tag, the verbs should match one another. Let’s look at a few examples:
- She wasn’t in the parade, was she?
- He hasn’t gone to the store yet, has he?
- The zoo isn’t closed, is it?
- Mom and dad weren’t in the car, were they?
- Sara is at the park, isn’t she?
- The dog is in the bedroom, isn’t it?
Notice that the question tags that have a negative verb use a contraction. This is a standard convention, but isn’t a requirement to form a question tag.
You could write it out, as seen in the following example:
- She went to the park, did she not?
It sounds a little funny, but is totally acceptable.If the sentence doesn’t use an auxiliary verb in the first clause, then the question tag should use a version of the verb ‘to do’ to complete the sentence. Also, if the first half of the sentence uses a version of ‘to do,’ then the question tag should use the ‘to do’ verb as well. See the following examples:
- She ate the hot dog, didn’t she?
- Mark drove the car, didn’t he?
- The man didn’t eat her birthday cake, did he?
- They walked away from the tree, didn’t they?
Using ‘I Am’ with Question Tags
To form a question tag when the statement has ‘I am’ in it, use ‘aren’t I’ in the question tag. It reverses when the question tag requires a positive verb.
See these examples:
- I am the smartest person in my class, aren’t I?
- I’m not the best at ballet, am I?
- I am the quickest swimmer, aren’t I?
Using ‘Could’, ‘Would’, or ‘Should’
If the statement uses any of the modal verbs, such as ‘could’, ‘would’, or ‘should’, then the same verb should be used in the question tag. Look at these examples:
- They could come with us, couldn’t they?
- He shouldn’t take the watch, should he?
- You wouldn’t be there, would you?
It’s All About How You Say It
Like any sentence, the way you say something matters, but how you say a question tag really makes a difference. For example, if you end a question tag with an ascending tone (or a rising intonation, in which your voice moves higher), then the question is perceived as a real question. This means that you are actually looking for an answer.On the other hand, if you finish a question tag with a descending tone (or a falling intonation, in which your voice moves lower), then the question isn’t perceived as a real one.
Instead, it is presumed that you already know the answer to the question.
Question tags are important in spoken English because they enable the speaker to turn a statement into a question. By doing this, the speaker can provide all of the information needed to the listener, so that person can respond accordingly. If you aren’t sure that you are using question tags properly, just remember that you must balance a negative verb with a positive verb. If the statement is positive, then the question tag is negative, and vice versa.
Also, don’t forget that if you are asking a real question and need a real answer, be sure to end your question tag with an ascending intonation. That’s right, isn’t it?