English grammar explanations - question-tags.
Understanding how to use questions tags.
The basics - structure:
Question-tags are "mini questions" which confirm something or ask for agreement. They cannot follow other questions; only affirmative statements. The structure of the most common type of question tag is:
Affirmative statement + comma + auxiliary + not (contracted) + pronoun + ?
She likes pizza, doesn't she?
Negative statement + comma + auxiliary + pronoun + ?
She doesn't like pizza, does she?
Note that the auxiliary in the question tag (the part underlined) is the same auxiliary we would use in the question form:
Question-tags and pronoun use.
The pronouns we can use in questions tags are limited to: subject personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, we, they); it and there. The pronouns refer to the subject of the sentence. Only pronouns can be used in question-tags:
I've got your address, haven't I?
Notice that other pronouns cannot be used in the question tag. This, that, these, and those will be changed to it and they:
This is ridiculous, isn't it?
After negative words like nobody and nothing, an affirmative question tag is used. After nothing we use the pronoun it and after nobody, they:
Nothing serious will happen, will it?
Exceptions to the rules.
There are some subject / auxiliary combinations that are not used in question-tags. Usually, we change the auxiliary in the tag to one of a similar meaning:
I am next, aren't I? (not, amn't I?)
*Mayn't does exist in the Oxford English Dictionary but is rare, at least in US and UK English. The question tag structures above are possible ways a native speaker might avoid it.
Question-tags with imperative sentences.
Imperative sentences use the following auxiliaries in questions tags: can, can't, will, would and won't. There is no real preference which auxiliary we use or whether it is affirmative or negative:
Go and buy me a newspaper, can you?
After a negative imperative, we can only use will you:
Don't say anything to Mary, will you?
Won't you can be used in a more formal and polite way, especially after the auxiliary "do" before the imperative:
Do take a seat, won't you?
If we offer to help using I'll or we'll or we use the structure let's, the question-tag usually takes shall:
Affirmative statements with affirmative questions tags.
We can use affirmative tags after statements with "so". The meaning expresses interest, surprise or even anger at what somebody is saying:
So you're new in this class, are you? How nice!
Intonation and question-tags (listen).
When we use a question-tag that confirms what we already suspect, voice intonation goes down on the last syllable of the question-tag. With this type of tag we do not expect a reply:
When we are not sure and we want the listener to answer if we are right or wrong, voice intonation goes up on the last syllable:
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