As you watch the video, look at the examples of question tags. They are in red in the subtitles. Then read the conversation below to learn more. Finally, do the grammar exercises to check you understand, and can use, the question tags correctly.
Ollie: What time is it? Oh, hi, Mum. It’s a bit early, isn’t it?
Sophie: Oh, yes, I suppose it is. Look, Ollie, I’ve got to ask you a really huge favour …
Ollie: Slow down, Mum. I’m not awake yet.
Sophie: Sorry, love. It’s just that I’ve got a bit of a problem. I’ve broken down …
Ollie: Hang on, you’re in a desert in the middle of Australia, aren’t you?
Sophie: It’s not exactly a desert, you know. It’s called the outback.
Ollie: Mum! It’s really dangerous to get stuck out there!
Sophie: It’s not so bad, but I need you to find someone in Alice Springs who will come and get me. Tell them that I’m about two hours away on the Stuart Highway, south of Alice. I can’t look for information because there’s no mobile coverage here and I can’t get the internet.
Ollie: So how are you phoning me?
Sophie: On my satellite phone, of course.
Daisy: What’s going on? Mum isn’t in trouble, is she?
Ollie: Yes …
Sophie: No, I’m fine. I’ve got plenty of food and water.
Ollie: But it must be really hot out there.
Daisy: Oh, we told you not to drive in the outback on your own, didn’t we?
Sophie: Listen, you two, I’m absolutely fine. I just need a bit of help with a phone call. These things happen when you travel independently. You can’t expect to see the world without a few little problems.
Daisy: Uh oh, I can feel the travel versus tourism lecture coming on.
Sophie: That’s enough from you two. Ollie, the satellite number is on the fridge. Give me a call when you’ve arranged something.
Ollie: OK, Mum, it’s your phone bill. Keep cool!
Sophie: I’ll try. Bye loves, and thanks!
Ollie: I think she might be getting a bit old for this sort of travelling, don’t you?
Daisy: Nah, she’ll be OK. She’s a lot tougher than you or me. I can’t imagine her doing anything else, can you?
We add question tags to the end of statements to turn them into questions. They are used in spoken language, especially when we want to check something is true, or invite people to agree with us.
So how do we form question tags?
We add a clause in the form of a question at the end of a sentence. If the main part of the sentence is positive we usually add a negative question tag.
It’s a bit early, isn’t it?
If the main part is negative, we usually add a positive question tag.
Mum isn’t in trouble, is she?
OK, that seems easy.
Yes, but you need to think about what verb to use in the tag. If there is an auxiliary, a modal verb or the verb to be in the main clause, we use that in the question tag.
You’re in a desert in the middle of Australia, aren’t you?
If there is another main verb, we use do in the correct form (as we would with questions and negatives).
I think she might be getting a bit old for this sort of travelling, don’t you?
We told you not to drive in the outback on your own, didn’t we?
OK, so the question tag refers to the subject of the main sentence.
Yes, very often, but sometimes it doesn’t.
I can’t imagine her doing anything else, can you?
Are there any exceptions?
There are a few. We use 'aren’t I' instead of the more logical 'amn’t I'.
I’m next in the queue, aren’t I?
Where is the stress in question tags?
It’s on the verb and the intonation is usually falling, unless the speaker isn’t sure about some kind of factual information, then it’s rising.
You’re from Beijing, aren’t you? (falling intonation = you’re fairly sure)
You’re from Beijing, aren’t you? (rising intonation = you’re not very sure and want the other person to confirm the information)
You use them a lot in conversation, don’t you?
Yes, we do. We use them a lot to try and involve other people in conversations.
So I’d better start using them more, hadn’t I?
Other languages don't really have question tags, do they?