FREE Podcast! Episode 8 – Question Tags

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:

Podcast 8 – Lesson Notes – Question Tags (PDF)

Question Tags – Six Worksheets (PDF)

Answers to worksheets:

Question Tags Worksheets - Answers

7 facts about question tags:

  1. Statement – usually short – plus question tag, with a question mark.
  2. They are often used in spoken English.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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:

  1. Realise what tense it is

e.g. They’re meeting at ten, aren’t they? (present continuous)

  1. Realise what pronoun is used (e.g. two names become they) and match it

They … they

  1. Is it a singular or plural subject? They = plural
  2. 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

  1. Match the auxiliary verb – are > aren’t
  2. 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: conversation; we want a response that means a quick agreement – voice goes down

We need information – we’re making plans

Lesson Plan:

  1. SS write x short statements on the board – half of them positive and half negative
  2. 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
  3. Try to elicit question tags; discuss the main points and the thought process
  4. SS complete one or more of the worksheets – check the answers

SS write their own sentences with question tags (or for homework)

Other forms:

  • 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?