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Today’s post is about how to ask questions with tags, which are simple tools that help you make an affirmative statement into a question. Rather than “yes/No” questions, where we don’t know if the answer is going to be a yes or a no, when we ask questions with tags, we are often checking for information that we think we know is true.

Just to clarify:

If you need basic information, either yes or no, you should ask a “yes/no”question:

  • Do you speak French?

If you want more information, you can ask a “wh-” question

  • How often do you speak French?

However, if you suspect that something is true, but are not 100% sure and would like confirmation, you will need to know how to ask questions with tags like this one:

  • You speak French, don’t you?

Notice that the structure is very different from the other two types of questions.

The question tag comes at the end of a sentence to indicate that the speaker would like confirmation of the statement. Native speakers use these question tags all the time, whereas many English learners incorrectly add just the word “yes?” or “no?”.

Incorrect question tag formation: You live in Soho, yes?

Correct question tag formation: You live in Soho, don’t you?

How to form questions with tags.

There are two parts to forming a question with tags:

  1. An affirmative or negative sentence clause (which you believe to be true),  
  2. The tag itself, which is an auxiliary verb and a subject pronoun in that order.

[main clause] + [auxiliary] + [subject pronoun]

The auxiliary verb in questions with tags

If the main clause contains an auxiliary verb or the verb “to be”, we use this verb to make the tag. However, if it does not contain an auxiliary verb, we use some form the auxiliary verb “to do” (just like when we ask “yes/no” or “Wh-” questions).

The key to asking questions with tags

The secret is, that when the main clause is affirmative, the tag is negative and vice versa. For example:

Affirmative: You eat meat, don’t you?

Negative: You don’t eat meat, do you?

Note that we normally contract the negative auxiliary verb although, to sound more formal,  we can use:

[main clause] +[auxiliary] + [subject pronoun] + [not]

Examples of how to ask questions with tags in various tenses

It is also important to remember that the main clause and the question tag should be in the same tense. Here are some examples from different tenses:

Present simple: You boss has signed the papers, hasn’t she?

Present continuous: You’re coming to the meeting on Friday, aren’t you?

Past simple: You didn’t forget your passport, did you?

Past continuous: You weren’t using that pen, were you?

Future simple: You’ll help Grandma, won’t you?

Future continuous: We’ll be flying first class, won’t we?

Present perfect: She hasn’t finished her degree, has she?

Present perfect continuous: She has been working hard, hasn’t she?

Past perfect: The pilot had checked the fuel before taking off, had she not?

Past perfect continuous: They had been working hard on the project, hadn’t they?

Future perfect: She’ll have finished by Monday, won’t she?

Future perfect continuous: I’ll have been working here for 6 years next month, won’t I.

Modal verbs: She can read, can’t she? We should be nearly there, shouldn’t we? They wouldn’t break, would they?

The strange exception to the rules of how to ask questions with tags

How to ask questions with tagsThere is one slightly odd exception to the rules. If you use the verb “I am” with the subject in your main clause, the question tag that follows is “aren’t I”.

Here are a few examples:

I’m booked on the course in May, aren’t I?

I’m still having lunch with the Queen, aren’t I?

The more formal construction is not as weird

If you use the [auxiliary] + [subject pronoun] + [not] format, without the contraction, we revert back to using “am I not?” rather than “are I not?”. Examples:

I’m still four years older than you, am I not?

I’m an expert in these matters, am I not?

I’m coming to New York to see you, am I not?

With negative main clauses, the affirmative question tag is the completely normal “am I?”.

Here are some examples of how to ask questions with tags if the clause is “I am not”:

I’m not sleeping in the caravan, am I?

I’m not pregnant, am I?

 

You found that easy enough to understand, didn’t you? If you would like more info about how to ask different types of questions in English, click the following links:

Yes/No questions

Wh- question

Indirect questions

If you are interested in studying how to ask questions with tags with one of our highly qualified native English teachers than you can click here to sign up for a free trial lesson: https://englishclassviaskype.com/trial-lesson/