Tag Question Special Cases
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:
treated as negative statement
|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?|
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:
|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|
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|
|Take a seat, won't you?||polite invitation|
|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 funny, 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)|