Question Tags in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

woman in front of chalkboard with question marks

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A tag question is a question added to a declarative sentence, usually at the end, to engage the listener, verify that something has been understood, or confirm that an action has occurred. Also known as a question tag.

Common tags include: won't you? wasn't it? don't you? haven't you? okay? and right?

Examples and Observations

  • "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
    (attributed to Albert Einstein)
  • "There's nothing more exhilarating than pointing out the shortcomings of others, is there?"
    (Randal Graves in Clerks, 1994)
  • "I like New York in June, how about you? I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?" (Burton Lane and Ralph Freed, "How About You," 1941)
  • "A toothbrush is a non-lethal object, isn't it?" (Morgan Freeman as Red in The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)
  • "This time we almost made the pieces fit, didn't we? This time we almost made some sense of it, didn't we? (Jim Webb, "Didn't We?" 1968)
  • "Now eventually you might have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?" (Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park, 1993)
  • "But we mustn't think it has all been wasted, must we? We must remember the good times, mustn't we?" (Eva Figes, Nelly's Version. Secker & Warburg, 1977)
  • "To actually see inside your ear canal--it would be fascinating, wouldn't it?" (Letter from Sonus, a hearing-aid company, quoted in The New Yorker, Mar. 24, 2003)
  • "I warned you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little bunny, isn't it?" (Tim in Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

Clause Types With Tag Questions

  • "Question tags are not independent clauses, but they do require a response, and are highly interactive. Structurally, interrogatives are abbreviated yes/no interrogatives consisting of an operator (either positive or negative) and a pronoun, which repeats the subject or substitutes for it. Question tags are attached to one of the following clause types: Of these, the declarative is by far the most common." (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course. Taylor & Francis, 2006)
  • A declarative clause: It was quiet in there, wasn't it?
  • An exclamative clause: How quiet it was in there, wasn't it?
  • An imperative clause: Be quiet for a moment, will you?

The Danger of Tag Questions

  • "There were plenty of good seats, as it happened, for the train was not crowded, and Richard was able to select an empty compartment. He was soon joined, however, by a stout, good-natured countryman who selected the seat opposite Richard, opened his newspaper, and became immediately social. 'Ave ye read about second murder?' he exclaimed. Richard frowned, and replied rather shortly. 'Yes. Gruesome, isn't it?' He wished he had not added the 'isn't it?' for this invited a continuation of the conversation, and Richard was not feeling social himself." (J. Jefferson Farjeon, The Z Murders. Collins, 1932)

Commas With Tag Questions

  • "Place a comma between a statement and the brief question that follows it when the subject of the statement and the subject of the question is the same entity (example 1). When they have different subjects, the statement and the question must be punctuated as separate grammatical elements (example 2).
    Examples(David K Woodroof, Woodroof's Quotations, Commas and Other Things English. iUniverse, 2005)
  • George was not there, was he?
  • I will never stay in that hotel again. Will you?

Also Known As: tag declarative, question tag (chiefly British), interrogative tag

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Question Tags in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Question Tags in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Question Tags in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).