Build your conversation skills with tag questions

Do you know what tag questions are?

They are questions made by repeating the subject and auxiliary verb at the end of a statement.

Examples are tag questions are: You don’t drink coffee, do you? or It’s really hot today, isn’t it? 

Tag questions are  very common in conversation because they can make language less direct and more interpersonal.  This also makes them useful for starting and continuing conversations.  

However, tag questions can be difficult for learners because of their structure and intonation.  Below are some of the ways tag questions are used: 

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Checking information
Rather than asking a normal question, you can use tag questions to check information you think is true.  You can also use rising or falling intonation to show how confident you are in the answer.  Here are some examples of how intonation and polarity (positive or negative) can change the nuance of your question:

 

Making requests
Sometimes it can be difficult to ask people to do things.  Because tag questions are more indirect, they can be a useful way to make requests without sounding too direct or confrontational.  For tag question requests, the first auxiliary verb needs to be negative and the intonation needs to rise and the end (see example below).  You can answer these in the same way you would answer a normal request eg. Sure, I’d be happy to or Of course

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Starting conversations
Because tag questions are less direct, they can also be a friendly way to start conversations.  These types of questions usually have a falling intonation. They are best used by making some kind of comment on common surroundings or situations (eg. weather, food at a party).  If you’re using them to start a conversation with someone new, you can introduce yourself later in the conversation with phrases like By the way, I’m (name). Nice to meet you.  Here are some examples of tag questions used to start conversations.

Answering tag questions
Although the structure of tag questions can be confusing when you hear them, you can answer them in the same way as a normal question.  In other words, if your answer is yes, this will not change regardless of the intonation or polarity of the question.  But, it’s a good idea to use actually if your answer is not what the speaker is expecting. Here are some examples:

Related links:

Do people speak too quickly for you?

How do I change conversation topics?