Question Tag Intonation

A question tag is added to a statement to make it into a question. The intonation used on the question tag shows the speaker’s attitude to their question, compare:

We met them on holiday, ↘didn’t we?
We met them on holiday, ↗didn’t we?

This example is the most common type of question tag where a positive statement is followed by a negative tag, or a negative statement is followed by a positive tag:

They can’t attend, ↘can they?
They can’t attend, ↗can they?

In all of these examples, falling intonation on the question tag gives the impression that the statement is correct. Rising intonation on the tag indicates a genuine question; the speaker isn’t sure that the statement is correct and requires an answer from the listener.

Native speakers in Britain use falling tags extensively, even when they’re not expecting an answer:

Terrible weather, ↘isn’t it?
He’ll just have to wait, ↘won’t he?

Other Question Tags

Positive statement and positive tag with rising intonation is another possible type of question tag:

You’ve finished, ↗have you?
It fell off a lorry, ↗did it?

This type of tag can be used to show sarcasm or suspicion, as in the second example above. 

Suggestions can also be followed by a rising question tag with shall:

Let’s go out tonight, ↗shall we?
I’ll make a cup of tea, ↗shall I?

Imperatives can be followed by a rising tag with a modal verb (will, could, would etc):

Pass me the remote control, ↗will you?
Help lift this, ↗could you?


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