Recently, a student encountered a tag question and was quite perplexed. Was this thing a statement or a question?
We use tag questions in speech quite often, but they are fairly rare in academic prose, less so in expressive writing. A tag question asks your listener/reader to confirm or deny a statement. Thus, the tag question includes both a statement and a short question.
Example: You have lunch money, don’t you?
In this tag question, the statement is “You have lunch money.” The short question, also known as a question tag, is “don’t you?”
You may wonder why we use question tags in the first place. Couldn’t the speaker/writer request the same information using a full question?
Certainly, the speaker/writer could do that (i.e., Do you have lunch money?), but the tag question is more than an equivalent to the full question. The yes-or-no question presented above (Do you have lunch money?) is open ended. In speech, unless this question is accompanied by nonverbal clues, the listener can safely assume that the speaker is merely asking for information.
In contrast, the tag question suggests that the speakerwriter expects or prefers a confirmation or denial. In the example tag question above (You have lunch money, don’t you?), the speaker expects that the listener will or could give an affirmative response: Yes, I do have lunch money.
The relationship between the two parts of a tag question are inversely related. That means that an affirmative statement preceeds a negative tag, and a negative statement preceeds an affirmative tag. Look at these examples:
- I am invited, aren’t I?
- You have taken this class before, haven’t you?
- Juliana visits you often, doesn’t she?
- Mr. Kim expects only the best, doesn’t he?
- The movie starts at 7:00, doesn’t it?
- We are moving on to the next lesson, aren’t we?
- My children are beautiful, aren’t they?
In each of the sentences above, the speaker either expects or hopes that the listener/reader will agree with the affirmative statement.
- I haven’t answered your question, have I?
- You aren’t afraid, are you?
- Your sister isn’t coming with us, is she?
- Dad won’t forget to pick me up, will he?
- This house isn’t for sale, is it?
- We can’t park here, can we?
- The dogs aren’t in the car alone, are they?
In each of these sentences, the speaker either expects or hopes that the listener will disagree with the statement.