I haven’t finished my travel series yet, have I?
You traveled with me to Austin and Sydney, didn’t you?
It’s kind of weird I am still writing these questions, hey?
Well it’s not too weird since we’ll be diving into tag questions in this post, which I heard so much on my trip. I’ll say confidently that Australians love them some tags! What IS weird, though, is that I am home now but just completing the travel with me 4 part series. Blame it on too much fun down under (Australia), losing my luggage and getting locked out of my house, and jet lag (a very tired feeling you get after traveling by plane far and changing time zones).
YES! Can you believe it, my husband and I made the silly mistake of leaving our house keys in our checked luggage. Rule number one of traveling is to always keep the important stuff in the carry-on in case of lost luggage… silly mistake, wasn’t it?
Luckily we weren’t locked out all night and made it inside, which is great for you because you’re about to learn everything you need to know about tag questions!
What are they?
Tag questions are additions to a sentence, made up of an auxiliary (be, do, have, will, modals) and a subject pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, they, we) to ask for confirmation of information, comment on a situation, or as a way to get unknown information. They are almost like an afterthought, just “tagged” (put) onto the end of a sentence.
They are incredibly common in English conversation. They are shorter versions of a question (languages are always finding shortcuts!), create variety in the dialogue, and I recommend getting comfortable using them in your daily conversation
How to form a tag question?
The auxiliary used in the tag question will depend on the main verb used in the preceding statement. Now pay attention. If the main statement is affirmative, then the tag is negative and always a contraction. If the main statement is negative, then the tag is positive.*See my first 2 examples at the top of this post. Are you with me? (Are you understanding?) Next, if the main verb in the preceding statement is “be”, then “be” will also be used in the tag question.
Paulo is not a teacher, is he? (No, he isn’t. He is a chef.)
They are from California, aren’t they? (Yes, they are.)
I am writing this post, aren’t I?
Notice the first negative statement: “Paulo is not…” and the positive form of the verb “to be” in the tag. Also notice that the be verb “am” doesn’t have a contraction, so “are” is used from the subject pronoun “I” in a negative tag.
If there is already an auxiliary in the main statement, such as “has/have/had” in the perfect tenses, “will” for the future tenses, or a modal (can, could, should), then that same modal is used in the tag question.
Holly has been to Australia, hasn’t she? (Yes, she has.)
I hadn’t seen you there before last week, had I? (No, you hadn’t.)
We won’t see you tomorrow, will we? (No, you won’t.)
We should study more English, shouldn’t we? (Yes, we should)
The modals may and might are not used in tag questions, because they don’t have a contraction. Although must does have a question, it is not common in American English. (I can’t speak too confidently about British English, so feel free to share)
Finally, all other statements (no “be” verb and no modals) will use the appropriate form of the auxiliary “do”.
You travel a lot, don’t you? (Yes, I do.)
Krystal didn’t see Michael Jackson in concert, did she? (No, she didn’t.)
He wishes he were home, doesn’t he? (Yes, he does.)
Jennifer has red hair, doesn’t she? (Yes, she does.)
Be careful not to confuse the main verb “to have” with the auxiliary, like the example above, when “to have” is the main verb we need to use the auxiliary “do” in the tag question.
How to answer a tag question?
This is what confuses most of the English learners I come across, but believe me it’s super easy! You answer a tag question the same way you answer a regular yes/no question. Look at all of examples of the answers in ( ) parenthesis above. They would be the same whether the tag was positive or negative. Let’s see one more example:
yes/no question: Are you reading this blog? (Yes, I am.)
+ tag question: You aren’t reading this blog, are you? (Yes, I am.)
– tag question: You are reading this blog, aren’t you? (Yes, I am.)
One more time… Why do we use tag questions?
We use tags to…
- Ask for confirmation of information. This is when we think we know the answer to the question, but we just want to make sure. For example, I am pretty sure you like this blog (because you’re reading it). However, it would be a little presumptuous (rudely confident) to just assume that, so I could ask: You like this blog, don’t you?
- Comment on a situation. Think: elevator conversation. This is that small talk that saves awkward silences, when you want to say something that you know the other person can relate to, also comment about, or give some kind of response to. Beautiful day, isn’t it? This music is quite loud, isn’t it? That game was great last night, wasn’t it?
- Get unknown information. The main difference between this point and # 1 (asking for confirmation) is the intonation in your voice when you ask. For most tag questions (#1 & #2), your voice will fall at the end of the tag. However, when you are getting unknown information, when you’re not sure that the information is correct or not, your voice will rise up on the tag. This is similar to a regular yes/no question. For example, you thought your friend was going on vacation next week, so when you heard they were leaving tomorrow you surprisingly ask: You’re not leaving tomorrow, are you? (make sure intonation rises)
How does this relate to Australia, and what about the word HEY?
Well as I mentioned before, I heard tag questions everywhere! I heard them from the waitresses, “Ready to order, are you?” “Good morning dolls. Doing well, are we?”, amongst friends, and just out and about. Something interesting to note about the waitresses though, was there double positive (positive statement, positive tag). Remember this is not the correct form of tag questions when using them in the above 3 ways, rather a way to greet others.
Another variation of the tag question (to comment on a situation) in Australia is the use of the word “hey” instead of the auxiliary + pronoun. This would sound a bit like, “This coffee is amazing, hey?” This doesn’t work when you are asking for confirmation or unknown information, as it’s just a general statement.
Hearing them all around during my trip inspired me to share this grammatical point with you, and end my travel series. I hope you enjoyed the journey, improved your skills, and learning something new! If you did, let me know! I also encourage you to practice a little. Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? Try writing some of your own examples in the comment section below, write a text to a friend, and try to make some conversation tomorrow. You can also try to write a statement to precede the following tags. Good luck!
- are we?
- haven’t they?
- does he?
- will she?
- aren’t I?
- should you?
Happy Studying ♥
You know someone studying English, don’t you? You can help me out, can’t you?
Share this post with a friend and help me spread the knowledge of tag questions, the love of grammar, and the power of connection! Thanks xo -Jennifer