Question Tags

Question Tags are appendages added to the end of an otherwise declarative or imperative sentence, turning in instead into an interrogative one. We use the term 'Question Tags' to refer to that appendage, and the flipped term 'Tag Questions' to refer to these interrogative sentences as a whole.

What to Expect

Question tags are short, pseudo-clauses that come after a declarative (or sometimes imperative) sentence to turn it into a question. The method featured here is breaking the tag down into three parts.

Tag Questions lie somewhere between statements (or commands) and Yes/No Questions; we use them to state what we believe or want to be true, but hedge the statement by turning it into a question, allowing someone else to either confirm it or correct us.

Prerequisites

Learners should already be familiar with the following:

Declarative sentences are used to convey information. Most sentences are declarative, and Insights uses them as templates for other structures. Imperative sentences are used to give commands. They usually lack subjects and begin with verbs in the infinitive (base) form.

Auxiliary Verbs, aka Helping Verbs: words that only exist in relation to the main verb; they can alter the voice, aspect (progressive and/or perfect), or modality of the verb string. Auxiliary Verbs include be, do, have, and modal verbs.

Contractions are two words smashed together into a single word with an apostrophe.  One of the two original words is always an auxiliary verb (with one notable exception).  Many Question Tags use contractions for which the first part is an auxiliary verb and the second part is not.  Examples include don’t, can’t, isn’t, and won’t, among others.

Subjects are the nouns that do the verbs (or have states). They are almost always at the beginning of the sentence, or at least come before the main verb.

Rhetorical Questions take the structure of interrogatives but do not seek an actual answer. They are used to make a point and often express irony. Here, the term is used more broadly and also includes requests or demands (in which the expected response is not a literal answer).

Negative clauses are ones that have either ‘not’ or ‘never’ in their verb string.

Proficiency Level

Students at the B1 level are expected to be familiar with Question Tags. They’ll likely start learning them at an Intermediate level (or 4th out of 6).*

*actual starting level varies from one course-book series to the next

The 3 Parts

1. repeat the (1st) original auxiliary verb (if none, use a form of do)

2. balance the +/– so that between the original
clause and the tag, one is positive and one is
negative.*

3. finish with a pronoun that matches the subject.

*unless the question is rhetorical

Bonus Notes

Practice Activity

Change of Plans

Each student should write down some things they might do between now and your next session. When they return for the next class, partners can ask them about what they did (and express surprise if something’s changed) using Question Tags.

Teaching Tips

Using Voice to Convey Meaning

Tone and inflection can affect the meaning of a sentence. See what happens when you use your voice in different ways – how do these questions change?

Writing With Colors

Using different colors – say, one color for subjects, one for auxiliary verbs, and one for ‘not’ (with black for the rest) – can help students more readily see which words need to be included in question tags.

Project

You Know Me So Well

Students play The Newlywed Game – except as friends – and instead of stating what they believe to be true, they’ll put it in the form of a question.

Printout

Auxiliary Verbs List

Printout

The 3 Parts of Question Tags

Slideshow

See ‘All Series’ page for guidelines on using slideshows.

Keep on Learning; Keep on Teaching

Yes/No Questions

Yes/No Questions and Tag Questions are similar in that they both require a 'Yes' or 'No' answer.
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Indirect Questions

Like Tag Questions, Indirect Questions are based on the declarative structure.
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