14 Essentials Rules Explaining English Question Tags Better

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A tag question can be defined as the shortened yes-no question added to a statement. It comprises an operator plus a pronoun with or without a negative particular (not).  There is the confusion that this article will find a solution to in question tags.

Rule 1

If the modal auxiliary verb “used to” is used in a statement, then it will be replaced with the operator “did” in a tag. For example:

  • Bolu used to come to your house every morning, didn’t she?
  • I used not to sleep in the afternoon, did I?

You can remember that the only operator for “used to” is “did” in a tag.

Rule 2

In some cases, the auxiliary “ought to” and “should” can be used in the same sense. It means that they can be used in a sentence to mean the same thing and denote the same meaning. For example:

  • You ought not to disrespect him, ought you?
  • The children ought to honor elders, oughtn’t they?
  • You should not disrespect him, should you?
  • You should honor elders, shouldn’t they?

Note that if a negative particle (not) is used with “ought to”, it must follow “ought” immediately before “to”, not after “to”. For example:

  • Say “ought not to” but don’t say “ought to not”.

Rule 3

If there is the positive operator “am” in a statement, then it will be replaced by “aren’t”, not “amn’t” in a tag. If, however, there is the operator “am” with the negative particle (not) as “am not” in a statement, then it will be replaced by “am” in a tag. For example:

  • I am mentally balanced, aren’t I? (not “amn’t I?”)
  • I am not a woman, am I? (Not “are I?”)
  • I am a good boy, aren’I? (Not “amn’t I?”)
  • I am not a prostitute, am I? (Not “are I?”)

Rule 4

In a statement, we have the indefinite pronouns such as “everybody, everyone, nobody, no one, someone, etc. as a subject, it will be then replaced by “am” with the pronoun “they” in a tag. For example:

  • Everybody/everyone attends my birthday, don’t they?
  • Nobody/ no one was a criminal, were they?
  • Somebody/someone has won the prize, haven’t they?
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Instead of he or she, the pronoun they, is more appropriate to replace any indefinite pronoun used above.

Rule 5

You should also note that the operator “must” with the negative particle (not) as “must not” is not the opposite of “must”. So, instead “mustn’t it” (must) will be replaced by “needn’t in a tag if “must” is only used in a statement. For example:

  • You must be a good student, needn’t you? (Not “mustn’t you?”)
  • He must be stupid, needn’t he? (Not mustn’t he?”)

However, if the “must not” occurs in a statement, then it will be replaced by “must” with a pronoun in a tag and it should not be “need” again. For example:

  • You must not go there, must you? (Not “needn’t you?”)
  • He mustn’t stupid, must he? (Not “need you?”)

Rule 6

It should be noted that the modal auxiliaries “need” and “dare” are not used as auxiliary verbs in a positive statement. Whenever they are used in positive statements, they always behave as lexical verbs. Therefore, they will be replaced by “do, does, or did” in tags. For example:

  • I need/dare money, don’t I (Not “need I or dare I?”)

However, if “need not” occurs in a statement, it serves as an auxiliary verb in a negative statement. So, it should be replaced by “need or dare” in a tag. For example:

  • I need/dare not visit you, need I? (Not  “don’t I?”)

Rule 7

Whenever a statement is a command or a request, then it will be replaced by “will or shall” in a tag. For example:

  • Stand up and get out of my office, will you? (command)
  • Shut the door, will you? (command)

In some cases, an imperative statement (command) may begin with “let’s” or “let us”. If each of them begins a statement, the statement will be replaced by “shall we” in a tag. For example:

  • Let’s leave that place, shall we?
  • Let us do it quickly, shall we?
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Rule 8

If “there” appears as part of a statement, it should be reflected as well in a tag. For example:

  • There is a good point in your opinion, isn’t there?
  • There were six boys in the classroom, weren’t there?
  • There are not with us, are there?

 Rule 9

Whenever the statement comprises the words “hardly, scarcely, or rarely”, such a statement should have a positive tag because each of the words above turns the statement into a negative form. For example:

  • The woman has hardly ever done the works, has she? (Not hasn’t she?)
  • We scarcely visited the airport, did we? (Not didn’t we?)
  • The rain rarely falls in Jos, does it? (Not doesn’t it?)

There are other ways of providing tags to the statement apart from attaching the particular (n’t) to auxiliaries. This means that the particular (not) can occur separately at the end of tags. For example:

  • He is a man, isn’t he?

It is also possible this way:

  • He is a man, is he not?
  • I will go there, won’t I? Or will I not?
  • They discussed the matter yesterday, didn’t they? Or did they not?
  • We shall fulfill our purpose, shan’t we? Or shall we not?
  • You were there yesterday, weren’t you? Were you not?
  • Bola has come, hasn’t she? Or has she not?
  • Mr. Adams might leave the place, mightn’t he? Or might he not?

Rule 10

If a question is asked with a negative orientation, it will require a negative answer. For example:

  • Are you playing a game? No, I am not.
  • Have you done it? No I haven’t or No I have not.

Now that we have the negative orientation (no) for the question above, it is wrong to say:

  • *Yes, I am not
  • *Yes, I haven’t, or yes, I have not.

The reason is that the positive orientation (yes) is not compatible with the negative answers.

Rule 11

If a question is asked with a positive orientation, then it will require a positive answer. For example:

  • Are you playing a game? Yes, I am.
  • Have you done it? Yes, I have.
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In the two examples in Rule 10 and 11, we can see that we have different answers to the same questions. The reason is that in Rule 11, we have a positive orientation to the question which requires a positive answer. It is, therefore, wrong to say:

  • *No, I am.
  • *No, I have.

Rule 12

Wherever a positive statement has a negative tag question, it should take a positive answer. For example:

  • I think you are calling me, aren’t you? Yes, I am.
  • Dare has a big mansion, hasn’t he? Yes, he has.

The negative question tag “aren’t?” takes the positive answer “yes, I am” and the negative question tag “hasn’t he” takes the positive answer “yes, he has”. So, it is incorrect to say:

  • *aren’t you? Yes, I am.
  • *has he? Yes, he has.

The reason is that it is an unnecessary repetition to have a positive question tag as well as a positive answer.

Rule 13

Whenever a negative statement has a positive question tag, then it should take a negative answer. For example:

  • I think you are not calling me, are you? No, I am not.
  • Dare has not arrived, has he? No, he has not or he hasn’t.

The positive question tag “are you” takes the negative answer “no, I am not” and the positive question tag “has he” takes the negative answer “no, he hasn’t”. Therefore, it is incorrect to say:

  • *aren’t you? No, I am not.
  • *hasn’t he? No, he hasn’t

The reason is that it is a repetition to have a question tag as well as a negative answer at the same time.

Rule 14

You can remember that the negative form of “must” which is “must not” cannot be used as the opposite of “must” in a tag. It is replaced by “needn’t”. For example:

  • You must be joking, yes, I must, or no, I needn’t.

Author: Deola Adelakun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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