icon  icon icon

Questions and tags

To ask a question in English you must usually use one of the auxiliary verbs (be, do, have) or a modal verb such as can, will, may. If you are expecting a yes/no answer, then the question starts with the auxiliary or modal. Here are some examples:

If you want more information than a simple yes/no answer, you must ask a question starting with one of the following question words: what, where, when, why, which, who(m), whose, how. In this kind of question you also normally use an auxiliary or modal:

* Note that questions starting with the question words what/who/whose do not need an auxiliary verb in the simple present or past. For example: What happened? Who knows the answer? Whose parents came to Open Day?

The questions what, which, whose are often followed by a noun (before the auxiliary/modal). The question how is often followed by an adjective. Look at the following examples:

Do a quiz on question words.

We quite often want to ask a question containing a preposition. In spoken English the preposition is usually put at the end of the question, as in the following examples?

Note: It is possible to begin questions with the preposition. ESL students should avoid this, however. Even in written English such questions sound too formal: With whom did you go to the party? From where is Miho?

A special type of question is the tag that English speakers put at the end of many statements. The tags in the following sentences are shown in red:

Tags are very common in spoken English, and have many functions. One of the common functions is to start a conversation or help keep it going. The two basic rules about tag questions are:

  1. If the statement is negative, the tag must be positive. If the statement is positive the tag must be negative.
    - You don't like me, do you?
    - You won't tell him my secret, will you?
    - He doesn't speak German, does he?
    - You're coming to my party, aren't you?
    - She's really good at chess, isn't she?
    - You haven't done your homework, have you?
  2. The tense of the tag is determined by the tense of the auxiliary/modal verb of the statement that precedes it. If the statement does not use an auxiliary/modal (i.e. it is in the present or past simple tense), then the auxiliary to do must be used.
    - She comes from Korea, doesn't she?
    - You like heavy metal music, don't you?
    - He got top grade in the math test, didn't he?
    - I really messed up, didn't I?

A problem with tags is getting the intonation right. Basically, it depends whether or not you are expecting an answer to your question. Look at these two examples:

Do a quiz on question tags.

Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)