Tag Questions

Introduction

This post looks at tag questions and how to use them correctly.


This is one of those tag questions, isn’t it?

business english success - tag questions

See what I did there? As you can see, the question above is an example of a tag question.

Basically, you take a statement and add the negation, turning it into a question.

In this case, the statement is “This is one of those tag questions” and I added “isn’t it?” as the tag.


A word of caution

There is something that needs to be stressed, namely that the tag part has to match the statement part, in subject, verb and tense.

These are all examples of where it has been used incorrectly:

  • This is a tag question, isn’t he? (wrong subject)
  • This is a tag question, can’t it? (wrong verb)
  • This is a tag question, wasn’t it? (wrong tense)

In each case, the tag part has a mistake and the whole sentence doesn’t sound natural. This is, of course, something you should try to avoid.


You like coffee, don’t you?

This might not appear to be a tag question, as the verbs don’t seem to match. However, this is a valid tag question, you just need to add an extra virtual word.

If you read the sentence as “You (do) like coffee, don’t you?”, then it obeys all the rules of a valid tag question. The part in brackets has just been omitted.


Spot the difference

Let’s imagine that you’re in a job interview and the potential employer asks you one of the following questions:

  • Can you start on Monday?
  • You can start on Monday, can’t you?
  • You couldn’t start on monday, could you?

In all cases, the interviewer is asking you if you can start on Monday, but there are differences in meaning.

Can you start on Monday?

This is a neutral way of asking, with no hidden meaning.

You can start on Monday, can’t you?

Rather than the neutral way of asking, this way is almost telling you that you have to start on Monday and asking you to confirm.

You couldn’t start on Monday, could you?

This variation is hoping that you could start on Monday, but realises that it is unlikely.

As you may have noticed, the statement can be negative, with a positive tag question – it isn’t limited to positive statements with negative tags.


Summary

Tag questions are a common part of the English language and when used correctly, can make your language appear more natural and fluent.

You do agree, don’t you?

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