#229: Tag Questions in English | Advanced Grammar and Pronunciation

by | Jan 19, 2022 | 13 comments

In this week’s Confident English lesson we’re going to explore tag questions in English — those short questions that come at the end of a sentence, turning the statement into a question.

For example, think about an English conversation you had recently. Do you remember hearing someone add the following to the end of a thought?

  • Isn’t it?
  • Doesn’t it?
  • Aren’t I?
  • Would you?

What I love about tag questions is that knowing how and when to use them correctly sharpens your grammar skills AND boosts your pronunciation as well for overall more natural-sounding speech, particularly the use of intonation.

But when exactly should you use them? And how?

By the end of this lesson today, you’ll understand how to form tag questions, be equipped with knowledge of the five different contexts for using tag questions, AND feel confident in your ability to effectively insert them into any conversation. 

Then, at the end, I’ve got a quiz for you.

Tag Questions in English — How and When to Use Them

Let’s start with a quick review of what are tag questions to make sure we’re on the same page.

Tag questions appear in the form of a statement with a short question ‘tagged’ to the end. This means that it’s been added on as an afterthought to a statement and has a specific purpose. 

Common examples include:

  • Isn’t it?
  • Doesn’t it?
  • Aren’t I?
  • Would you?

A tag question will usually follow this structure:

Statement + auxiliary/modal + subject

  • Ex. “This color’s beautiful, isn’t it?

The add-on of ‘isn’t it’ may seem a little confusing and you may wonder why English speakers go to the trouble of creating tag questions instead of asking a question directly. 

Let’s take a look at five reasons and scenarios for using tag questions!

Reason #1: Tags Seek Information

Like any standard question, tag questions also act as gateways to more information.

Imagine you’re about to buy a new phone, but the details of the warranty are a little foggy.

To learn whether water damage would be covered, you might ask “The warranty does cover any water damage, doesn’t it?

Reason #2: Tags Request/Ask For Favors

Tag questions are a great way to politely request something. 

For example, a coworker needs help with a project and requests, “You wouldn’t happen to have any notes on this client, would you?

Or, maybe, your coworker requests a favor by asking, “You aren’t free to help me with a few things on this project, are you?

 

Alternatively, you can also form a request by using an imperative:

Imperative + will/would/won’t + subject

 We can change the first request to be more assertive and say, “Send me any notes you have on the client, won’t you?”.

Reason #3: Tags Start Conversations

Sometimes, asking a direct question may come across as too bold or forceful. Tag questions are a great way to subtly start a conversation or keep it going, without any abruptness.

Imagine that a new person has joined your team.

Instead of catching someone off-guard to ask, “Are you finding things ok?

You could simply ask:

“There’s quite a bit of information to process, isn’t there?”

This is a great way to open a conversation, or keep it going, while also giving you an opportunity to follow up with an open-ended question, for a deeper dive.

Reason #4: Tags Confirm Facts/Assumptions

Aside from seeking information, English speakers use tag questions to confirm assumptions, beliefs, or any facts.

Imagine you extended an invitation for dinner, but want to reconfirm whether the person will make it.

In this case, you may ask, “You’re joining us for dinner on Friday, aren’t you?”

Note the use of rising intonation here. That’s because you’re curious to know their answer and want to confirm whether your assumption is true.

On the contrary, English speakers use a falling intonation when they want to confirm AND emphasize through a tag question.

Perhaps you’re aware that your daughter is falling behind in school because she hasn’t been dedicating time to her studies.

At a parent-teacher conference, you might remark, “Stephanie has fallen behind, hasn’t she?”

Reason #5: Tags Lighten the Mood

In Reason #3 we discussed how tag questions dampen the awkwardness or abruptness that comes with starting a conversation.
In the same way, English speakers use tag questions to minimize any negativity or frustration in a conversation.

We use tag questions to insert humor through dramatic hyperboles — exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

When using tag questions for humor, we can use the following structure:

Hyperbole + auxiliary + subject

Imagine you’re part of a group of friends who always have difficulty with making plans on a day that satisfies everyone.

In an attempt to lighten the exasperation, you might joke, “This feels a bit like herding cats, doesn’t it?”

For this expression, you would use falling intonation to humorously acknowledge a shared thought and make a statement.

It’s Time for a Quiz!

Below are four questions to test your knowledge of tag questions.

Figure out what’s missing and let me know the purpose of the tag question (i.e. favor, humor, or confirmation). 

  1. You can almost fry an egg on the sidewalk, _________? 
  2. I don’t need to get a haircut, _______?
  3. Beauty exists within the eye of the beholder, _________?
  4. You _______ happen to have time to help me with this client, ________? 

I look forward to hearing your responses.

~ Annemarie

 

P.S. Are you looking for a community to provide support, help you stay motivated, and guarantee that you grow? Check out our Confident Women Community.

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