THE QUESTION MARK

A tag question is a device used to turn a statement into a question. It nearly always consists of a pronoun, a helping verb, and sometimes the word not. Although it begins as a statement, the tag question prevails when it comes to the end-mark: use a question mark. Notice that when the statement is positive, the tag question is expressed in the negative; when the statement is negative, the tag question is positive. (There are a few exceptions to this, frequently expressing an element of surprise or sarcasm: “So you’ve made your first million, have you?” “Oh, that’s your plan, is it?”) The following are more typical tag questions:

  • He should quit smoking, shouldn’t he?
  • He shouldn’t have quit his diet, should he?
  • They’re not doing very well, are they?
  • He finished on time, didn’t he?
  • She does a beautiful job, doesn’t she?
  • Harold may come along, mightn’t he?
  • There were too many people on the dock, weren’t there?

(Be careful of this last one; it’s not “weren’t they?”)