Learn about how we use question tags in English. This episode is a really exciting grammar one, isn’t it? Yes, it is! Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes – thanks!
You can download the free lesson notes and six worksheets for practising question tags from here:
Answers to worksheets:
7 facts about question tags:
- Statement – usually short – plus question tag, with a question mark.
- They are often used in spoken English.
- In many languages (e.g. Polish) we can use the equivalent of …yes? In English we can say: yes, yeah, right (Am/E), OK, got it, understand, but the tone can be rude and confrontational/angry; too direct; English is not a direct language; it sounds like an order, and we don’t like direct orders. (In Polish, use tak for checking and no nie or nie prawda for small talk (but this sounds old fashioned – old people say this), or no tag.)
- We can use any auxiliary verbs, including modal auxiliary verbs. Present simple can be confusing – you have to choose DO/DOES or BE. Also past simple: DID or WAS/WERE. We use contractions; in rhetorical speech we can say, Is it not? Were we not? etc.
- It is not as common with pronoun I. I’m… aren’t I? (This is an oddity – we can’t say am not I? amn’t I? There is no contraction for am not.)
- We can use them to sound sarcastic, e.g. ‘That was a great film, wasn’t it?’ My descending tone shows that I believe the opposite – it was not a great film.
They are more difficult to use than they look – because of the thought process…
The thought process of using question tags:
- Realise what tense it is
e.g. They’re meeting at ten, aren’t they? (present continuous)
- Realise what pronoun is used (e.g. two names become they) and match it
They … they
- Is it a singular or plural subject? They = plural
- Positive – negative; negative (even without not, e.g. never) – positive; do the opposite
They’re meeting… = positive, so the question tag has to be negative: …aren’t they
- Match the auxiliary verb – are > aren’t
- Understand the context: need info or checking/making small talk; intonation differs:
we are asking a question; we want an answer: information – voice goes up
we are sure that the listener agrees with us; something is obvious; we are just making (phatic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phatic_expression) conversation; we want a response that means a quick agreement – voice goes down
We need information – we’re making plans
- SS write x short statements on the board – half of them positive and half negative
- T elicits how to gain information or check (small talk) – tak? Look at English options; elicit wrong register/tone; SS practise some sentences together with the wrong tone
- Try to elicit question tags; discuss the main points and the thought process
- SS complete one or more of the worksheets – check the answers
SS write their own sentences with question tags (or for homework)
- Positive imperative: Stay here, will / won’t you?
- Negative imperative: Don’t move, will you?
- Let’s: Let’s go to the fair, shall we?
- Need to: We need to return this form, don’t we?
- There is/are: There’s a cow in that field, isn’t there?
- There isn’t: There isn’t any jam left, is there?
- Somebody is/isn’t: Somebody is late, aren’t they? / Somebody isn’t… are they?