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Tag Question Special Cases

Negative Adverbs

The adverbs never, rarely, seldom, hardly, barely and scarcely have a negative sense. Even though they may be in a positive statement, the feeling of the statement is negative. We treat statements with these words like negative statements, so the question tag is normally positive. Look at these examples:

positive statement treated as negative statement positive tag
He never came again, did he?
She can rarely come these days, can she?
You hardly ever came late, did you?
I barely know you, do I?
You would scarcely expect her to know that, would you?

Intonation

We can change the meaning of a tag question with the musical pitch of our voice. With rising intonation, it sounds like a real question. But if our intonation falls, it sounds more like a statement that doesn't require a real answer:

  intonation  
You don't know where my wallet is, do you? / rising real question
It's a beautiful view, isn't it? \ falling not a real question

Imperatives

Sometimes we use question tags with imperatives (invitations, orders), but the sentence remains an imperative and does not require a direct answer. We use won't for invitations. We use can, can't, will, would for orders.

  imperative + question tag notes:
invitation Take a seat, won't you? polite
order Help me, can you? quite friendly
Help me, can't you? quite friendly (some irritation?)
Close the door, would you? quite polite
Do it now, will you. less polite
Don't forget, will you. with negative imperatives only will is possible

Same-Way Tag Questions

Although the basic structure of tag questions is positive-negative or negative-positive, it is sometimes possible to use a positive-positive or negative-negative structure. We use same-way tag questions to express interest, surprise, anger etc, and not to make real questions.

Look at these positive-positive tag questions:

  • So you're having a baby, are you? That's wonderful!
  • She wants to marry him, does she? Some chance!
  • So you think that's amusing, do you? Think again.

Negative-negative tag questions usually sound rather hostile:

  • So you don't like my looks, don't you? (British English)

Asking For Information Or Help

Notice that we often use tag questions to ask for information or help, starting with a negative statement. This is quite a friendly/polite way of making a request. For example, instead of saying "Where is the police station?" (not very polite), or "Do you know where the police station is?" (slightly more polite), we could say: "You wouldn't know where the police station is, would you?" Here are some more examples:

  • You don't know of any good jobs, do you?
  • You couldn't help me with my homework, could you?
  • You haven't got $10 to lend me, have you?

Some More Special Cases

I am right, aren't I? aren't I (not amn't I)
You have to go, don't you? you (do) have to go...
I have been answering, haven't I? use first auxiliary
Nothing came in the post, did it? treat statements with nothing, nobody etc like negative statements
Let's go, shall we? let's = let us
He'd better do it, hadn't he? he had better (no auxiliary)

Now we'll look at some examples of tag questions of all types.

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