Tags are either questions, statements or imperatives added to a clause to invite a response from the listener:
You’re a musician, aren’t you?
Well, yes, but I’m just an amateur.
She can’t swim, can she?
No. Apparently she never learnt as a child.
Donna plays football, doesn’t she?
He was your teacher, was he?
Pass me that CD, will you?
[passes the CD]
Tags consist of one of the auxiliary verbs be, do or have, or the main verb be, or a modal verb, plus a subject, which is most commonly a pronoun:
be, do, have, modal
He’s working as a tour guide,
Your mother was Scottish,
She plays the piano,
The shops don’t open till 9.30,
You could sell it on the Internet,
Don’tbe late tonight,
When we use auxiliary be, do or have, a modal verb or main verb be in the main clause, this verb is used in the tag:
She was crying, wasn’t she?
He does look like his father, doesn’t he?
They’ve waited a long time, haven’t they?
You’re Danish, aren’t you?
If there is no auxiliary or modal verb in the main clause, we use auxiliary do, does, did in the tag:
He plays hockey, does he?
She dances beautifully, doesn’t she?
The girls wanted to go home, didn’t they?
If the main clause verb is I am, then the negative tag form is aren’t I:
Sorry, I’m late again, aren’tI?
If the main clause verb is used to, the tag verb is did:
Martinusedtolive in Oxford, didn’t he?
Yes, that’s right.
If the main clause verb is ought to, the tag verb is most commonly should or, far less commonly, ought:
We ought to leave now, really, shouldn’t we? Or (far less commonly) Weoughtto leave now, really, oughtn’t we?
When tags follow imperatives, the tag verb is usually will:
Phoneme this evening, willyou?
Yeah, OK. I’ll give you a call about 6.30.
Question tags turn statements into yes-no questions. There are two types.
The first type of question tag consists of an affirmative main clause and a negative tag, or a negative main clause and an affirmative tag. Negative tags are most commonly used in the contracted form:
[main clause]She’s a translator, [tag]isn’t she? (affirmative main clause + negative tag)
He hasn’t arrived yet, has he? (negative main clause + affirmative tag)
We can use type 1 question tags when we expect the answer to the question to confirm that what we say in the main clause is true:
You work with Barbara, don’t you? (A thinks it is true that B works with Barbara.)
Yes, that’s right.
Sam’s not very old, is he? (A thinks it is true that Sam is not very old.)
No, he’s only 24.
With type 1 tags, we can use falling intonation (↘) if we are fairly sure of the answer, and rising intonation (↗) if we are not so sure.
not so sure
We’ve met before,
You were at Kim’s party,
He’s not very happy,
They’re not open today,
The second type of question tag consists of an affirmative main clause and an affirmative tag:
[main clause]You’re Joe’s cousin, [tag]are you?
She got the email, did she?
We can use type 2 tags when we do not know if the answer is yes or no. The intonation is usually a rising tone:
Maureenlivesin Hamden, does s↗he? (The speaker wants to know if Maureen lives in Hamden or not.)
Yes, She does. She was born there in fact.
You’rea graphic designer, arey↗ou?
No, not actually a designer, but I work with graphics.
A tag after an imperative clause softens the imperative a little. The tag verb is most commonly will but we can also use would, could, can and won’t:
Turn the TV down, will you?
Don’t shout, will you? I can hear you perfectly well.
Come here a minute, can you?
After the imperative with let’s, we can use shall in the tag:
Let’s have some lunch now, shall we?
We can use a statement tag to emphasise or reinforce an affirmative statement. The tag is also affirmative. They typically invite the listener to agree or sympathise in some way, or to offer a parallel comment. Statement tags are very informal:
I’mbored with this, Iam. (stronger than I’m bored with this)
My Maths teacher was lovely. Hewasa great teacher, hewas.
Hm, you were lucky. Mine wasn’t so good.
When the main clause has a pronoun subject, a statement tag can have a noun as the subject instead of a pronoun:
She won some money last week, Catherinedid.
He was a great teacher, Mr Mark was.
This construction is similar to a tail construction.