The Beginning of English Question Tags for All Learners


When we ask questions, we expect to answer the questions suitably. When we also make the statement, we are expected to provide the appropriate questions for them.

If we ask questions but the answers are irrelevant or we make the statement but the question provided for the statement is also irrelevant, there is a problem. The mentioned problem can only be solved through the knowledge of the question tag.

What is a question tag?


A tag question can be defined as a shortened yes-no question added to a statement. It comprises an operator plus a pronoun with or without a negative particular (not).

The choice and tense of the operator are determined by the verb phrase in the sentence. For example: in the sentence, “He is a boy”. Three things have to be considered.

  • The pronoun He
  • The verb  is
  • The sentence is a positive statement

Since the statement is positive, the verb is will change to negative as in isn’t and it will also come before the subject he plus the question mark. For example:

He is a boy, isn’t he?

Rule 1

If the statement (affirmative) is positive, then a tag is negative. For example:

  • It was a good idea, wasn’t it?
  • You must be stupid, needn’t you?

Now that the auxiliaries (was) and (must) in the sentences above do not contain the negative particle (not) or (n’t), then the statements are positive and tags should be negative.

Rule 2

If the statement (affirmative) is negative, then a tag is positive. For example:

  • They couldn’t go that way, could they?
  • She will not do it, will she?

Since the auxiliaries (could) and (will) in the sentences above are attached to the negative particle (not) or (n’t), then the statements are positive negative and tags should be positive.

Rule 3

If the sentence’s verb is a helping verb (finite auxiliary verb), it will remain unchanged in a tag. For example:

  • I am listening to you, aren’t I?
  • We shall not die, but alive, shall we?

We have to understand that (am) and (shall) are auxiliary verbs in the statements above and remain auxiliaries in tags.

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Rule 4

If the sentence (statement) is void of a pronoun as the subject, but a noun is used instead, you will consider the gender of the particular noun and replace it with an appropriate pronoun. For example, “Mr. Ojo or Bayo” can be replaced by the ” he ” pronoun. “Mrs. Mary or Amaka can also be replaced by the pronoun “she”. Also, non-human attributes such as “tree”, “book” or “chair” can be replaced by “it”. For example:

  • Ade is here, isn’t he?
  • Mrs. Bolu will not come, will she?
  • The tree is tall, isn’t it?

Now, Ade is replaced by the pronoun he and the noun Mrs. Bolu is replaced by the pronoun she, and the noun tree is replaced by the pronoun it in tags.

Rule 5

If a statement has more than one subject joined by the coordinating conjunction (nouns and pronouns), it will be replaced by the pronoun they in a tag. For example:

  • Bunmi and Banji have lost their money, haven’t they?
  • You and I weren’t around last week, were they?

Bunmi and Banji and You and I in the statement above are replaced by them in tags.

Rule 6

In most cases, a statement may not contain two subjects but the plural subject. If this occurs in a statement, then it should be replaced by the pronoun they in a tag. For example:

  • Some people had done it, hadn’t they?
  • The attendants have traveled, haven’t they?

Some people and the attendants are plural subjects and are replaced by the plural pronoun they.

Rule 7

When a statement has a lexical verb instead of an auxiliary verb that can function as the operator of the statement, then the operator “do” is introduced in a tag. For example:

  • Ade appears before the Senate, doesn’t he?
  • They dance to the rhythm of JuJu music, don’t they?

But if a lexical verb in a statement is in the past form, then the past form is used in a tag. For example:

  • The students welcomed the visitors, didn’t they?
  • The man promised me some money, didn’t he?
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The verbs that appear and dance in the statements (a) and (b) above are present forms that can be replaced by the current operators don’t and doesn’t in tags.

In statements (c) and (d), welcomed and promised are past forms that are replaced by the past operator didn’t.

Rule 8

Consideration should be put on the subject that is followed by the verb in a statement. If the verb is a singular form, the operator must be a singular form.

But if the verb is the plural form, then the operator must be plural.  It can be discovered through the subject followed by the verb. For example:

  • Mr. Martins comes here every day, doesn’t he?
  • The pupils recite poems, don’t they?

The verb comes is a singular verb following the singular subject Mr. Martins in statement (a). That is why it is replaced by the singular operator doesn’t in a tag.

Also, the verb recite is a plural verb (if you compare) following the plural subject of the pupils in statement (b) and is replaced by the operator don’t in a tag. Consider the examples below.

  • Mr. Martins do come here every day (Incorrect)
  • Martins does come here every day. (Correct)
  • The pupils does recite poems. (Incorrect)
  • The pupils do recite poems. (Correct)

Rule 9

When a statement has the operator “do” with a lexical verb and since there is already the operator “do”, consideration will only be put on it (operator do) rather than the lexical verb. For example:

  • I don’t understand this passage, do I?
  • They did come to the party, didn’t they?

In the examples above, the operator don’t and did should be put into consideration for tags, and not the lexical verbs understand and come in the statements above.

Rule 10

You should note that if a complex sentence consists of a main clause and a subordinate clause, a tag should mirror the subject and operator of the main clause, not the subordinate clause in tags. For example:

  • The principal ordered that I must leave the place, didn’t he?
  • I assured him that he wouldn’t see me at home, didn’t I?
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Sentence (a) consists of two clauses:

  • The principal ordered (main clause)
  • …that I must leave the place (subordinate clause)

Sentence (b) consists of two clauses:

  • I assured him(main clause)
  • …that he wouldn’t see me at home (subordinate clause)

According to the rule, the subject and the operator of the main clause will be put into consideration, and not those of the subordinate clause.

Now, in sentence (a) the “principal” (subject) and the “ordered” (operator) are considered in a tag. In sentence (b), “I” (subject) and “assured” (operator) are also considered in a tag. So, “I must” and “he wouldn’t” in the subordinate clauses are not considered.

Rule 11

If an auxiliary verb follows the subject in the main clause of a complex sentence, consideration will be put on that particular auxiliary verb in the main clause in tags. For example:

  • We should know where Mr. Banji was, shouldn’t we?
  • I am not saying that you cannot do it, am I?

The auxiliaries should and am are considered in the main clause, but not was and can’t that are in the subordinate clauses.

Rule 12

It should be noted, however, that wherever the verb “suppose” are “think” are used in the main clauses, then the tag will specify the verb in the second clause of the sentence, but not “suppose and “think”.

  • I suppose you are around, aren’t you?
  • I think he hasn’t gone home, has he?

The verb ‘are’ and ‘hasn’t’ are considered for tags.

This article can be learned further to make a have a piece of good knowledge about it. Good knowledge of the 14 rules explaining question tags better will make you apply them correctly. You can still learn more here.

Author: Deola Adelakun

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