Tag Questions – A Linguistic Difference Explained

tag question

How and Why to Use Tag Questions

Tag questions are used to confirm information. They are often used to ask for agreement.

Tag questions are often answered incorrectly by Koreans speaking English. This can be understood from a cultural perspective and a difference in communication styles. In Korean, it’s common to answer a negative confirmation question with “yes.” It takes practice to change this habit. It’s important to practice because answering a negative sentence with “yes” is not correct in English and causes confusion.

For example, Korean style might look something like this in English:

A: You don’t want to see that movie?

B: Yes, (I don’t want to see that movie).

In English we would say:

A: You don’t want to see that movie?

B: No, I don’t.

If you answer “yes” it will cause confusion. A native English speaker will think you do want to see the movie!

Now, let’s add the tag to the end of “You don’t want to see that movie?” to create a tag question.

A: You don’t want to see that movie, do you?

B: No, I don’t.

Be careful! If you say, “yes” you are disagreeing with the statement. A “yes” answer means, “Yes, I do want to see that movie.” It confuses the listener because it is not the expected answer.

A note about tone:

Tag questions that have a rising tone at the end are real questions. They are used to ask for information or ask for a favor.

For example:

“The 171 bus comes here, doesn’t it?”

In this case, the person asking wants to verify information. It is a real question. The answer might be “yes” or it might be “no” depending on the information.

Example of asking for a favor:

“You don’t have 500 won you could lend me, do you?”

This person is asking for a favor, so “do you?” would rise in tone. The person might lend you 500 won or they might not.

Quick grammar review of which verbs to use

Here are 8 examples of tag questions with both the expected answer and the unexpected answer.

*Note, for the purpose of the examples, “Actually” is added and is providing a cue to the questioner that the answer is not what they expected.

Tag questions Expected Answer

(agreeing)

*Unexpected Answer
You have a part-time job, don’t you? Yes, I do. Actually, (no) I don’t.
You don’t have a part-time job, do you? No, I don’t. Actually, (yes), I do.
You have been to Japan, haven’t you? Yes, I have. Actually, (no) I haven’t.
You haven’t been to Japan, have you? No, I haven’t. Actually, (yes), I have.
You have never been to China, have you? No, I haven’t. Actually, (yes), I have.
You like spring, don’t you? Yes, I do. Actually, (no) I don’t.
You aren’t a sophomore, are you? No, I’m not. Actually, (yes), I am.
You can play a musical instrument, can’t you? Yes, I can. Actually, (no) I can’t.

Note: In American English, when “have” is not combined with a past participle, there is an invisible “do” before have. So, we use “do” and “don’t” for the tags and answers.

Be sure that both your subject and verbs are correct. I have only used “you” as a subject in the examples, but any subject can be used.

For example:

University is different from high school, isn’t it?

People shouldn’t litter, should they?

He doesn’t play the guitar, does he?

We are practicing tag questions, aren’t we?

I’m not a stickler for grammar, am I?

I hope this helps you understand how to use and respond to tag questions in English!

For practice, play this Kahoot!

If you find videos helpful, here is one of my favorite English teachers on YouTube explaining tag questions with examples.

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