Tag question

Tag question

A Tag question (also: question tag) is 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 their British counterparts 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'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 Russian "не правда ли?" (not true?), 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 atypically 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 is in the perfect tense, for example, the tag question uses "has" or "have"; if the verb is 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%-50% [Geoff Parkes et. al, "101 Myths about the English Language", Englang Books, 1989, ISBN 1 871819 10 5, p. 38] 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. This is contrasted 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 almost always found with rising patterns. An occasional exception is "surely".

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.

References


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  • tag question — This is the grammarians name for a question added at the end of a statement and acting as a reinforcer rather than seeking an answer, as in You will do this for me, won t you? / She has been to America, hasn t she? / I don t need an umbrella, do… …   Modern English usage

  • tag question — tag .question n technical a question that is formed by adding a phrase such as can t we? , wouldn t he? , or is it? to a sentence …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • tag question — tag ,question noun count LINGUISTICS a word or phrase such as isn t it? or haven t you? that you can add to a sentence to make a question …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • tag question — n. a brief question with the general meaning “Is it not so?”, added to a declarative or imperative sentence: it is negative in construction when the original sentence is affirmative, and vice versa (Ex.: It isn t raining, is it? Hurry now, won t… …   English World dictionary

  • tag question — noun Etymology: tag (I) : a question (as isn t it in “it s fine, isn t it?” or is it in “Oh it is, is it?”) added to a statement or command (as to gain the assent of or challenge the person addressed) ; also : a sentence ending in a tag question… …   Useful english dictionary

  • tag question — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms tag question : singular tag question plural tag questions linguistics a question tag …   English dictionary

  • tag question — noun Date: 1933 a question (as isn t it in “it s fine, isn t it?”) added to a statement or command (as to gain the assent of or challenge the person addressed); also a sentence ending in a tag question …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • tag question — tag′ ques tion n. gram. a short interrogative structure appended to a statement or command, often inviting confirmation or assent, as isn t it in It s raining, isn t it?[/ex] • Etymology: 1960–65 …   From formal English to slang

  • tag question — /ˈtæg kwɛstʃən/ (say tag kweschuhn) noun Grammar a question in the form of a statement followed by a short question requesting confirmation or negation from the listener, as in It is cold today, isn t it? or We must leave immediately, do you… …   Australian-English dictionary

  • tag question — Gram. 1. Also called tag. a short interrogative structure appended to a statement or command, as isn t it in It s raining, isn t it?, are you in You re not going, are you?, or German nicht wahr. 2. a question formed by appending such a structure… …   Universalium

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