English Grammar: Tag Endings

When a question gets added to the end of a declarative statement, it is called a “tag ending” or a “tag question.” We use tag endings when we want confirmation for something or when we want to get a reply, like when we ask, “What do you think?” or “Is this correct?” An easy way to identify a tag ending is to remember that the question is “tagged” onto the end of the sentence.

Here are some examples of sentences with a tag ending:

  • The Yankees have a game tonight, don’t they?
  • Jay plays the guitar, doesn’t he?
  • You’re learning a lot, aren’t you?

The basic format of a tag question is a subject (Yankees, Jay, you), a main or auxiliary verb (have, plays, learning), and a question asked after a comma (don’t they, doesn’t he, aren’t you). The question must contain a pronoun that matches with the main subject of the sentence.

You can also phrase the tag question with an existential “there” or “it.” For example:

  • There’s going to be a storm tonight, isn’t there?
  • It’s going to rain a lot, isn’t it?

Positive and Negative Tags

A tag question can be in two different formats: a positive statement with a negative tag or a negative statement with a positive tag. First, you use the verb to identify if the declarative statement is positive or negative. There are positive and negative verbs and auxiliary verbs in a sentence. An auxiliary verb will likely appear in the tag ending.

Some examples of positive auxiliary verbs:

  • Is/Are
  • Do/Does
  • Was/Were
  • Have/Had
  • Will
  • Can
  • Could/Would/Should

Some examples of negative auxiliary verbs:

  • Isn’t/Aren’t
  • Don’t/Doesn’t
  • Wasn’t/Weren’t
  • Hasn’t/Hadn’t
  • Won’t
  • Can’t
  • Couldn’t/Wouldn’t/Shouldn’t

If the verb or auxiliary verb is positive during the first part of the statement, then the tag ending must be negative. If the start of the sentence is negative, then the tag ending must be positive.

Some examples of negative sentences with positive tag endings:

  • Jack doesn’t like the Yankees, does he?
  • You aren’t sleeping, are you?

The words “doesn’t” and “aren’t” are used to describe the action (not liking the Yankees, not sleeping). Each one is followed by the positive version of the word (does, are).

Some examples of positive sentences with negative tag endings:

  • Wyzant is very educational, isn’t it?
  • You speak Spanish, don’t you?

In the first example, “is” makes the sentence positive, while “isn’t” makes the tag ending negative. In the second example, the declarative statement, “You speak Spanish” is positive, while the word “don’t” creates the negative tag ending. If you wanted to make the second example a negative statement with a positive tag ending, then it would read, “You don’t speak Spanish, do you?”

Tag Ending Quiz Questions

Jay and Cole are friends, _____ they?

  1. isn’t
  2. aren’t
  3. weren’t
  4. doesn’t

2. You aren’t going to the park, ____ you?

  1. were
  2. is
  3. did
  4. are

3. Stephanie ____ eat that sandwich, did she?

  1. didn’t
  2. isn’t
  3. did
  4. wouldn’t

4. There ____ a lot of time, is there?

  1. wasn’t
  2. isn’t
  3. was
  4. is

5. Rosie couldn’t go to the mall, ____ she?

  1. would
  2. could
  3. isn’t
  4. did
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