Tag questions are statements that end with a short question. The short question at the end can either have rising or falling pitch, and this can affect the meaning of the tag question. Check out the following example, in which the speaker uses falling pitch in the question:
By using falling pitch, the speaker is expressing certainty, but wants confirmation from the listener. This is what the tag question would look like in a dialogue:
Derek: She’s not coming in, is she?
Catalina: Probably not.
In the example above, Derek feels pretty confident that Vicky is not going to come. On the other hand, if a tag question has rising pitch, then the speaker believes something might be true, but is not sure. Here is the same tag question, this time with rising pitch:
Here’s what this tag question looks like in a different dialogue:
Kumar: She’s not coming in, is she?
Jomanah: I’m not sure, but I hope not.
In the example above, Kumar thinks that Vicky won’t come in because she has a cold, but he’s not certain.
Listen to and pronounce the following tag questions. Then, choose the most appropriate response based on whether the tag question uses falling intonation (requesting confirmation) or rising intonation (expressing uncertainty).
- This sandwich has mayonnaise, doesn’t it?
- Taylor’s been to Central Park, hasn’t he?
- Erin’s going abroad, isn’t she?
- Your headphones were expensive, weren’t they?
- I passed the test, didn’t I?
Remember that responding to tag questions may be different in English from your first language. For a brief grammar review of typical yes/no responses, check out the chart below:
|Tag Question||Correct Answer|
|Baruch is in New York City, isn’t it?||Yes (it is).||In both cases, the answer is the same: Baruch is in New York City.||Extra stress is used when the person responding does not agree with person asking the question, regardless of level of certainty.|
|Baruch isn’t in New York City, is it?||Yes it is!|
|Baruch is in Miami, isn’t it?||No it isn’t!||In both cases, the answer is the same: Baruch is not in Miami.|
|Baruch isn’t in Miami, is it?||No (it isn’t).|
What do you do now?
First, make a list of typical tag questions you have heard before (e.g., “It’s not raining, is it?”). Practice changing the pitch to alternate between certainty and uncertainty.
Second, come see a speech consultant to practice your list of questions. You can use your questions to act out a conversation while practicing appropriate intonation and responses.