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Auxiliary Verbs in Tag Questions

tag question (or question tag) is a short question used, usually at the end of a sentence, to ask the listener to show that he or she agrees with what has been said or confirm that what has been said is true.

Tag questions are generally formed with auxiliary verbs, but they may also be formed with the lexical verbs be and have.

  • We can go to the cinema tomorrow, can’t we?
  • She is coming with us, isn’t she?
  • You have finished your homework, haven’t you?
  • You will be careful, won’t you?
  • You won’t do anything silly, will you?
  • She wouldn’t go on her own, would she
  • We are agreed, aren’t we, about what needs to be done.

If the verb phrase in the main part of the sentence has one auxiliary verb in it, then that auxiliary verb is used to form the tag question.

  • She is coming with us, isn’t she?
  • You have finished your homework, haven’t you?
  • He will help us, won’t he?
  • You can whistle, can’t you?
  • You did tell her, didn’t you?

If the verb phrase in the main part of the sentence has more than one auxiliary verb in it, then the tag question is formed with the first one.

  • We should have visited your aunt, shouldn’t we?
  • She wouldn’t have gone there alone, would she?
  • You couldn’t have looked more ridiculous if you’d tried, could you?

If the main part of the sentence has only a lexical verb and no auxiliary verb, then here again the auxiliary verb do is brought in as the operator.

  • She likes music, doesn’t she?
  • Your dad enjoys gardening, doesn’t he?
  • You know a lot about fish, don’t you?
  • She came in with you, didn’t she?
  • You saw him, didn’t you?

Regardless of whether the subject of the verb in the first part of the sentence is a noun, a noun phrase or a pronoun, the subject of a question tag is always a pronoun.

  • John plays the piano, doesn’t he?
  • Her mother is French, isn’t she?
  • Most dogs chase cats, don’t they?

When the subject of the verb in the main part of the sentence is a pronoun such as someone, somebody, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, no-one, nobody or neither, the subject of the question tag is they:

  • Everyone knows that, don’t they?
  • Neither of them said anything, did they?

With none, the subject of the question tag depends on whether the noun or pronoun that follows none is singular or plural:

  • None of her classmates like her very much, do they?
  • None of the jewellery was stolen, was it?

Again, the lexical verbs be and have are exceptions to the rule.

Be never takes the auxiliary verb do:

  • Your sister is fond of Beethoven, isn’t she?
  • The books were here, weren’t they?
  • That is not really true, is it?
  • There is no ‘f in ‘cough’, is there?
  • That was a great party, wasn’t it?

The tag question following have may be formed with have or do. As with questions and negatives, the usage depends on the meaning of the verb have. In the sense of possessing something, the question tags can be formed either with have or with do:

  • You have two sisters, haven’t you? OR
  • You have two sisters, don’t you?
  • They haven’t a hope of winning, have they? OR
  • They haven’t a hope of winning, do they?

Also with have got:

  • You’ve got two sisters, haven’t you? OR
  • You’ve got two sisters, don’t you?

In the past tense, do is commoner than have in the question tag:

  • She had two sisters, didn’t she?

In other senses of have, the tag question is usually formed with do:

  • She had a long talk with him, didn’t she?

After a positive statement, the question tag is usually negative:

  • You are coming with us, aren’t you?
  • You can speak English, can’t you?
  • We should visit your aunt, shouldn’t we?

Notice that negative tag questions are normally formed with -n’t rather than with not, though in more formal English not is also possible:

  • ant the lord of all these lands, am I not?
  • She is the best chess-player in the club, is she not?

After a negative statement, the question tag is positive:

  • You aren’t coming with us, are you?
  • You can’t speak Japanese, can you?
  • We shouldn’t be here, should we?

Other negative words also cause the following question tag to be positive:

  • I’ll never win, will I?
  • Nothing went wrong, did it?
  • None of the Jewellery was stolen, was it?

Certain other words that have a slightly negative meaning, such as hardly, scarcely and seldom, are also followed by positive question tags even though the main verb is positive:

  • She seldom smiles, does she?
  • That hardly counts as an answer, does it?
  • She scarcely ever smiles, does she?

A negative question tag often expects the answer ‘yes’, and a positive tag often expects the answer ‘no’. Such question tags are said with a falling intonation. But question tags with a rising intonation are also used to express surprise, disapproval, doubt, shock, etc:

  • They aren’t coming with us, are they? (= I am pretty sure that they are not coming with us ano I want you to confirm that they aren’t.)
  • They aren’t coming with us, are they? (= I realize they are coming with us but I am surprised that they are.)
  • You can’t speak Chinese, can you? (= I am pretty sure that you are not able to speak Chinese, and I want you to confirm this.)
  • You can’t speak Chinese, can you? (= I realize that you can speak Chinese but I am surprised that you can.)

It is, however, possible to have a positive statement followed by a positive question tag. A positive statement followed by a positive question tag usually implies surprise at something or the discovery of some fact:

  • And that is why you came here, is it?
  • So you are the boy who broke my window, are you?
  • So Graeme is your computer expert, is he?

Question Tags after Commands and Requests

After commands and requests, the usual question tag is wilt you?

  • Give me a hand with this, will you?
  • Stop shouting at me, will you?
  • Do be quiet, will you?
  • Don’t shout at him, will you?

After more persuasive or hopeful positive requests (that is, ones without not or -n’t), the question tag is often won’t you?:

  • Do be quiet, won’t you, when we’re in the hospital.

In colloquial speech, can you? and can’t you? are also sometimes used as question tags after commands and requests:

  • Tell them to get a move on, can you?
  • Give it a rest, can’t you? (= stop doing that)


The tag question after let’s and let’s not is shall we?

  • Let’s go to the pictures this evening, shall we?
  • Let’s have a game of tennis, shall we?
  • Let’s not mention this to him, shall we?
  • Let’s not take this too seriously, shall we?

Shall we? is also found after other constructions that are used to make suggestions:

  • We’ll all be very quiet, shall we, and then we’ll see if the bunnies come out of their burrows.

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