Question Tags in English Grammar

Introduction

Question tags, also tail questions, transform regular declarative clauses into questions. We use them to invite a response or confirmation from the person we are speaking to. Question tags are formed by adding an auxiliary verb and repeating the subject of the main clause as a pronoun. It’s important to know which auxiliary verb to use and whether the tag should be positive or negative.

Learn the rules for question tags in English grammar with Lingolia. Then test your grammar skills in the interactive exercises.

Example

Your dog is very big, isn’t he?

His name is Fluffy, isn’t it?

He just wants to play, doesn’t he?

He doesn’t bite, does he?

You have already fed him, haven’t you?

You got him from the animal shelter, didn’t you?

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Usage

  • We use question tags when we expect our conversation partner to confirm what we’re saying.
    Example:
    Your dog is very big, isn’t he?
  • For positive sentences we use the short form (contraction) of the negation. For negative sentences, we use the positive form.
    Example:
    He just wants to play, doesn’t he?
    He doesn’t bite, does he?

Formation

be or auxiliary verb

  • If the verb in the sentence is a form of be, we use this same form in the question tag.
    Example:
    Your dog is very big, isn’t he?

To Note

In the negative question tag for I am, we use are.

Example:
I am clever, aren’t I?
  • If the sentence includes an auxiliary verb or a modal verb, we use that auxiliary/modal verb in the question tag.
    Example:
    You have already fed him, haven’t you?
    The dog can’t talk, can he?
  • If the verb in the sentence is not be and there is no auxiliary/modal verb, then we use the appropriate form of do for the question tag.
    Example:
    He just wants to play, doesn’t he?
    You taught him to behave, didn’t you?

Pronouns

We always use pronouns in the question tag. The name or noun in the sentence is replaced by the corresponding pronoun in the question tag.

  • For people and other living beings whose gender we know, we use he/she for the singular and they for the plural.
    Example:
    Your dog is very big, isn’t he?

    We already know that it’s a male dog.

  • For everythign else, we use it for the singular.
    Example:
    His name is Fluffy, isn’t it?

    Here we’re not talking about the animal but rather about the name. A name is not a living being, so here we use it.

  • If the sentence already has a pronoun for the subject, we use this same pronoun in the question tag.
    Example:
    He doesn’t bite, does he?
    You have already fed him, haven’t you?