Question Tags In Spoken English


We very often hear native speakers of English use question tags in spoken English. Question tags are not questions but are used merely to ask for agreement to the statements they make. Question tags are also used to show disbelief or surprise.

In Spoken English, we often use question tag to ask for the second person’s agreement to what we state. In the sentence “You don’t like it, do you?” the speaker merely states his opinion and ask the second person to agree or disagree. The tag used is often the opposite of the statement. If the statement is in positive, the tag is usually in negative.

If he speaker thinks that the second person will agree with his or her statement, the intonation at the end of the statement falls down—just like the intonation of all statements. On the other hands, if the speaker doubts whether or not the second person will agree, the intonation rises at the end. The sentence, “You live here, don’t you?” with different intonation (falls down and rises at the end) conveys different meaning in terms of the degree of certainty of the speaker.

Question tags for learners of English as a second language are still difficult to apply in Spoken English. Grammatical errors are often found in terms of tag agreement. Such mistakes as “You work here, aren’t you?”, or “He doesn’t want to go to the market, is he?” are still made by students whose grammatical skill still leave much to be desired. When they do the written test on question tags, all of their answers are correct. In order that they can use question tags in spoken English, they have to practice speaking and of course they should know what question tags are for.

Take a look at the following. “You don’t want to drink coffee, don’t you?” or “you live here, do you?” The tags are different to those of the statements in the previous examples. The sentence “you like it, do you?” is used when the speaker is surprised at the fact that the person he talks to likes it. The followings are examples of question tags you use when you are surprised:

·         You haven’t eaten, haven’t you? (I am surprised that you haven’t eaten.)
·         He lives in Jakarta, does he? (It surprises me that he lives in Jakarta)
·         You don’t love her, don’t you? (I thought you loved her)
The intonation of these question tags rises at the end of the statement.

Question tags are also used in imperative statements. “Will or would” is used as the tags.
·         Come here, will you?
·         Open the window, would you?
·         Don’t tell me about it, will you?
·         Go and get it, will you?

“Won’t” is used in imperatives when we want to show politeness (polite requests).
·         Sit down, won’t you?
·         Give me some money, won’t you?
·         Don’t get mad at me, won’t you?

“Shall” is used when we use “Let’s”.
·         Let’s take a bus, shall we?
·         Let’s not talk about it anymore, shall we?
·         Let’s go to the office earlier, shall we?

Question tags are also used in a short answer to show surprise or disbelief.
·         A: I haven’t eaten since this morning, you see. B: You haven’t, haven’t you?
·         A: I am now married. B: You are, are you?

This article of mine has been published on TRIOND: