Tag Questions

Tag Questions

Tag Questions.

Tag questions (or: question tags) are a grammatical structure in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment (the “tag”).

The term “tag question” is generally preferred by American grammarians, while British ones prefer “question tag”.

Forms and uses.

In most languages, tag questions are more common in colloquial spoken usage than in formal written usage. They can be an indicator of politeness, emphasis, or irony. They may suggest confidence or lack of confidence; they may be confrontational or tentative. Some examples showing the wide variety of structure possible in English are:

Open the window, will you?

She doesn’t really want that, does she?

You’d better stop now, hadn’t you?

So you thought it would be a good idea to reprogram the computer, did you?

It’s quite an achievement, isn’t it, to win a Nobel prize!

Oh I must, must I?

I just adore Beethoven, don’t you?

I’m coming with you, all right?

You’ve been there, right?

Easier said than done, eh?

You went there, no?

Some languages have a fixed phrase for the tag question, such as French n’est-ce pas? (“is it not?”), German nicht wahr? (“not true?”), Polish nieprawdaż? (not true?), Tagalog diba? (“is it not?”), Polish czyż nie? (is it not?), London dialect innit? (from “isn’t it?”), Romanian nu-i aşa? (“is it not so?”) or Spanish ¿verdad? (“truth?”), or they may have a special word for the purpose, like South German gell? (derived from gelten, “to be valid”). Standard English tag questions, on the other hand, are constructed afresh for every sentence, and are therefore quite variable: have I? did you? won’t we? etc. This is also found in the Celtic languages. A tag question need not have the grammatical form of a question (will you?); an adverb or adverbial may serve the purpose instead: right? all right? surely? OK? eh? German often uses oder? (“or”) and ja? (“yes”) as tag questions.

Tag questions in English.

English tag questions, when they have the grammatical form of a question, are untypically complex, because they vary according to four factors: the choice of auxiliary, the negation, the intonation pattern and the emphasis.

Auxiliary

The English tag question is made up of an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. The auxiliary has to agree with the tense, aspect and modality of the verb in the preceding sentence. If the verb was in the perfect tense, for example, the tag question uses has or have; if the verb was in a present progressive form, the tag is formed with am, are, is; and if the sentence has a modal verb, this is echoed in the tag:

He’s read this book, hasn’t he?

He read this book, didn’t he?

He’s reading this book, isn’t he?

He reads a lot of books, doesn’t he?

He’ll read this book, won’t he?

He should read this book, shouldn’t he?

He can read this book, can’t he?

Negation

English tag questions may contain a negation, but need not. When there is no special emphasis, the rule of thumb often applies that a positive sentence has a negative tag and vice versa:

She is French, isn’t she?

She’s not French, is she?

These are sometimes called “balanced tag questions”. However, it has been estimated that in normal conversation, as many as 40% of tags break this rule. “Unbalanced tag

questions” (positive to positive or negative to negative) may be used for ironic or confrontational effects:

Do listen, will you?

Oh, I’m lazy, am I?

Jack: I refuse to spend Sunday at your mother’s house! Jill: Oh you do, do you? We’ll see about that!

Jack: I just won’t go back! Jill: Oh you won’t, won’t you?

Patterns of negation can show regional variations. In North East Scotland, for example, positive to positive is used when no special effect is desired:

This pizza’s fine, is it? (standard English: This pizza’s delicious, isn’t it?)

Note the following variations in the negation when the auxiliary is the I form of the copula:

England (and America, Australia, etc.): Clever, aren’t I? Scotland/Northern Ireland: Clever, amn’t I? nonstandard dialects: Clever, ain’t I?

Intonation

English tags can have a rising or a falling intonation pattern. We may contrast this with Polish, French or German, for example, where all tags rise. As a rule, the English rising pattern is used when soliciting information or motivating an action, that is, when some sort of response is required. Since normal English yes/no questions have rising patterns (e.g. Are you coming?), these tags make a grammatical statement into a real question:

You’re coming, aren’t you?

Do listen, will you?

Let’s have a beer, shall we?

The falling pattern is used to underline a statement. The statement itself ends with a falling pattern, and the tag sounds like an echo, strengthening the pattern. Most English tag questions have this falling pattern.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing, does he? This is really boring, isn’t it? Sometimes the rising tag goes with the positive to positive pattern to create a confrontational effect:

He was the best in the class, was he? (rising: the speaker is challenging this thesis, or perhaps expressing surprised interest)

He was the best in the class, wasn’t he? (falling: the speaker holds this opinion)

Be careful, will you? (rising: expresses irritation)

Take care, won’t you? (falling: expresses concern)

Sometimes the same words may have different patterns depending on the situation or implication.

You don’t remember my name, do you? (rising: expresses surprise)

You don’t remember my name, do you? (falling: expresses amusement or resignation)

Your name’s Mary, isn’t it? (rising: expresses uncertainty)

Your name’s Mary, isn’t it? (falling: expresses confidence)

It is interesting that as an all-purpose tag the London set-phrase innit (for “isn’t it”) is only used with falling patterns:

He doesn’t know what he’s doing, innit?

He was the best in the class, innit? On the other hand, the adverbial tag questions (alright? OK? etc.) are always found with rising patterns.

Emphasis

English tag questions are normally stressed on the verb, but the stress is on the pronoun if there is a change of person.

I don’t like peas, do you?

I like peas, don’t you?

This is often a rising tag (especially when the tag contains no negation), or the intonation pattern may be the typically English fall-rise. In French, this would be expressed with et toi?, which is also a kind of tag question.

ESPAÑOL

Los tag questions son pequeñas frases o preguntas (mini-questions) que se colocan al final de una oración afirmativa o negativa y que generalmente tienen como objetivo confirmar o negar el contenido de la frase misma. Es el equivalente al ¿verdad? español o al ¿no? más utilizado en países de América.

TRES REGLAS BASICAS QUE DEBES RECORDAR

1. Los tag questions utilizan siempre los verbos auxiliares.

2. Con oraciones afirmativas utilizamos un tag question en NEGATIVO.

3. Con oraciones negativas utilizamos un tag question en AFIRMATIVO o POSITIVO.

Analicemos ahora las diferentes alternativas que pueden presentarse:

a) ORACIONES AFIRMATIVAS CON EL VERBO TO BE EN PRESENT SIMPLE O CONTINUO.

Se utiliza la misma forma del verbo en NEGATIVO: aren”t you? isn”t he? isn”t she? isn”t it? aren”t we? aren”t you? aren”t they? Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

It”s a beautiful day, isn”t it? (Es un día hermoso, ¿no?)

Martha is angry, isn”t she? (Marta está enojada, ¿verdad?)

You are really tired, aren”t you? (Estás muy cansado, ¿no?)

They”re very nice people, aren”t they? (Son personas muy agradables, ¿no?)

You are coming tomorrow, aren”t you? (Vas a venir mañana, ¿verdad?)

Pedro”s flying now, isn”t he? (Pedro está volando en estos momentos, ¿no?)

Por favor recuerda que, en inglés americano y UNICAMENTE en este caso en particular, para la primera persona del verbo to be se utiliza aren”t I? como equivalente de am I not?:

I”m late, aren”t I? (Llego tarde, ¿no?)

I”m arriving late at night, aren”t I? (L Legaré? tarde por la noche, ¿no?)

b) ORACIONES NEGATIVAS CON EL VERBO TO BE EN PRESENT SIMPLE O CONTINUO.

Se utiliza la misma forma del verbo en AFIRMATIVO o POSITIVO: am I? are you? is he? is she? is it? are we? are you? are they? Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

I”m not late, am I? (No llego tarde, ¿no?)

It isn”t a beautiful day, is it? (No es un día hermoso, ¿verdad?)

Martha isn”t angry, is she? (Marta no está enojada, ¿no?)

You aren”t really tired, are you? (No estás muy cansado, ¿verdad?)

They aren”t very nice people, are they? (No son personas muy agradables, ¿no?)

You aren”t coming tomorrow, are you? (No vas a venir mañana, ¿no?)

Pedro isn”t flying now, is he? (Pedro no está volando en estos momentos, ¿no?)

c) ORACIONES AFIRMATIVAS CON EL VERBO TO BE EN PAST SIMPLE O CONTINUO.

Se utiliza la misma forma del verbo en NEGATIVO: wasn”t I? weren”t you? wasn”t he? wan”t she? wasn”t it? weren”t we? weren”t you? were”t they? Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

It was a beautiful day, wasn”t it? (Fue un día hermoso, ¿verdad?)

Martha was angry, wasn”t she? (Marta estaba enojada, ¿no?)

You were really tired, weren”t you? (Estabas muy cansado, ¿verdad?)

You were studying at 6, weren”t you? (Estuviste estudiando a las 6, ¿no?)

He was flying when I phoned, wasn”t he? (Estaba volando cuando llamé, ¿no?)

d) ORACIONES NEGATIVAS CON EL VERBO TO BE EN PAST SIMPLE O CONTINUO.

Se utiliza la misma forma del verbo en AFIRMATIVO o POSITIVO: was I? were you? was he? was she? was it? were we? were you? were they? Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

It wasn”t a beautiful day, was it? (No fue un día hermoso, ¿no?)

Martha wasn”t angry, was she? (Marta no estaba enojada, ¿no?)

You weren”t really tired, were you? (No estabas muy cansado, ¿verdad?)

You weren”t studying at 6, were you? (No estuviste estudiando a las 6, ¿no?)

He wasn”t flying when I phoned, was he? (No estaba volando cuando llamé, ¿no?)

e) ORACIONES AFIRMATIVAS CON OTROS VERBOS COMUNES O DEFECTIVOS.

Teniendo siempre en cuenta el TIEMPO VERBAL, se utiliza el auxiliar en NEGATIVO que corresponde a la persona de la oración: didn”t she? hasn”t she? won”t she? shouldn”t she?

can”t she? couldn”t she?, etc. Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

You went to Costa Rica in 1990, didn”t you? (Fuiste a Costa Rica en 1990, ¿no?)

Elena has traveled a lot, hasn”t she? (Elena ha viajado mucho, ¿no?)

Ann will be here soon, won”t she? (Ana estará pronto aquí, ¿verdad?)

Tom should pass his exam, shouldn”t he? (Tom debería aprobar su examen, ¿no?)

You can play the violin, can”t you? (Sabes tocar el violín, ¿no?)

He could find a job, couldn”t he? (Pudo encontrar trabajo, ¿verdad?)

f) IMPERATIVOS Y SUGERENCIAS O INVITACIONES.

Después de la cláusula Let”s… el tag question que corresponde es shall we? (en interrogativo AFIRMATIVO). Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

Let”s go out for a walk, shall we? (Salgamos a dar una vuelta, ¿qué te parece?)

Let”s study tomorrow morning, shall we? (Estudiemos mañana por la mañana, ¿sí?)

Después del imperativo (do/don”t do something) el tag que corresponde es will you? (en interrogativo AFIRMATIVO). Aquí tienes algunos ejemplos:

pen the door, will you? (Abre la puerta, ¿sí?)

Don”t smoke in this room, will you? (No fumes en esta habitación, ¿de acuerdo?)


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