Question tags are used frequently when speaking English, they are not used much in writing, unless you are quoting a character. This explanation of question tags is all you need to know to perfect your English speaking. Strangely British people use A LOT more question tags than Americans. Here you can see a scientific study on the usage of question tags, comparing British English speakers to American English speakers.
Why do we use Question Tags?
Question tags are used in English to include your listener in the conversation. If you are speaking for a long time, you may want to prompt a response from your listener, either to check that they are still listening to you, or to try and get them to agree with what you are saying.
I was walking down the street and I saw an old guy, he dropped his bag. I ran over and helped him, you have to help someone in need, don’t you?
We also use question tags to check that what we know is true, to confirm what we are saying is right.
You are going to the party, aren’t you?
How to Form a Question Tag
Question tags are easy to form, if the statement is positive, then the question tag must be negative, and vice versa. Check out these examples:
He is always hungry, isn’t he?
The trains are always late here, aren’t they?
The party was so much fun, wasn’t it?
You have been to London, haven’t you?
She can swim, can’t she?
All the sentences above include a modal or auxiliary verb, so we simply use the opposite positive or negative form. But how do we form a question tag, when there is no auxiliary or modal verb in the sentence?
Question Tags with no Auxiliary Verb
When the statement we wish to turn into a question tag doesn’t contain an auxiliary verb, we always use the verb ‘to do’
Mary likes cake, doesn’t she?
He ate all his dinner, didn’t he?
They ran in the park last week, didn’t they?
I finished my work, didn’t I?
When we use a question tag, our intonation always rises at the end, when we’re asking a question, to confirm what we know is true, or when we want our listener to agree with us. This means the tone of your voice must raise slightly at the end.
Questions Tags which are NOT a Question
Another question tags explanation, is when we are NOT using a tag to form a question, rather, we are speaking confidently, we already know the answer. Speaking this way shows that you know the answer, you are simply making a statement, and sounding poetic.
To do this, we simply drop the intonation at the end of our sentence. Say the two following sentences out loud, once with rising intonation (a question), once with falling intonation (a statement)
We met them on holiday, didn’t we?
We met them on holiday, didn’t we.
And there you have it, try to incorporate question tags into your speech, this will help you to sound really fluent and natural. If you would like to meet with an expert, British teacher, to practice your fluency and build confidence, contact us by clicking here, for your FREE 20-minute trial class. See you soon!