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Using Tag Questions the Right Way

Tag questions in English can be tricky, can’t they? In today’s lesson, we’ll talk about how to pronounce tag questions in English.

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Podcast intro:

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 379. And today we are going to talk about tag questions. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Hey everyone. Welcome, welcome, welcome. Today, I want to talk about both grammar and intonation. Intonation is the music of the language, the melody you hear when people speak. And a lot of times, because it doesn’t have any semantic information or weight to it, so we don’t think the melody is going to have Information for us that we need to understand the message, we tend to filter it out so we don’t hear it, we don’t notice it even.

However, as you’ll see or hear in this episode, intonation does add another layer of information. And usually we call it the hidden information, the underlying information, the subtext. Because there is a difference in how we say things. There’s a difference in meaning. And we’re going to talk about that as we talk about tag questions.

Tag questions is a type of questions that people tend to ask, and it has a very specific and clear and consistent grammatical structure. So, this episode is all about that – the grammar and the intonation. So I hope you enjoy this episode.

And by the way, there is a free resource to help you get through the content and understand it in a better way. So, you can download it by simply going to the link in the description. And you can practice along because it’s one thing to understand something, it’s another thing to put it into practice. And when you put it into practice, you actually get it and you can start using it more consistently. And that’s what we want.

We want those small wins for you to be able to learn something and use it, learn something and use it. And this is why I generally create those free resources for you. So click the link in the description and get it, or just go to hadarshemesh.com/tagquestions.

All right, my friends enjoy this episode.

Video transcript:

“You remember me, don’t you?” “You remember me, don’t you?” “You didn’t forget my birthday, did you?”

What are tag questions? In this episode, I’m going to talk about what tag questions are, why we actually need tag questions and when we use them, how to use them correctly, and then also the two different intonation patterns that we use when we use tag questions so that you can both understand the meaning, but also understand the hidden meaning behind a sentence.

If you’re new to my channel, then let me take a minute to introduce myself. My name is Hadar. I’m a non native speaker of English, and I am here to help you speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom. You can come check out my website at hadarshemesh.com for a ton of free resources and lessons. And also you can follow me on social media where I share new content almost every single day.

Let’s get started. What are tag questions? Tag questions are phrases, statement-like phrases that we add another small part that is formed as a question, so that ultimately we take a statement and we turn it into a question. For example, “It’s a great day, isn’t it?” “It’s a great day” – statement – “isn’t it?” we add this part to turn the entire phrase into a question. “You didn’t forget my birthday, did you?” “You didn’t forget my birthday” – statement – “did you?” – question.

So why do we need tag questions and when do we use them? There are several reasons for why you may want to use tag questions. The first one is to get some kind of response. It’s great for a small talk or when you’re having a conversation and you want someone to respond to what you’re saying.

For example, “It’s a great day, isn’t it?” “It’s a great day”, right, you’re making a statement. When you say “isn’t it?”, you’re inviting the other person to pitch in, to also say what they think about it. “The sushi is really good, isn’t it?” “The sushi is really good”, that’s what I think, “Isn’t it?” I want you to join the conversation and tell me what you think about it. So this is a great tactic to use when you want to have a conversation with someone else.

We also use it when we seek some kind of confirmation, when we think that something is true, but we want to confirm that it’s actually true. For example, “You really enjoyed the movie”. This is me making a statement because I believe that you enjoyed the movie. “Didn’t you?” “You really enjoyed the movie” – statement, “Didn’t you?” – tag question.

Another reason for why we may use tag questions is when we want to soften a statement. When we want to say our opinion, to state our opinion, but we don’t want to sound too aggressive or forceful. So, for example, if If someone suggests an idea, I could respond, “It’s a great idea.” But I could also say, “It’s a great idea, isn’t it?” Right? So I’m making a statement, but I’m softening it a little bit when I use the tag. Now, you can use it, you don’t have to, there’s nothing wrong about being assertive. But sometimes in a situation when there are a lot of opinions, you might want to use it.

Lastly, we may use it when we want to express uncertainty, when we’re actually uncertain about a certain situation. For example, “This is the right way, isn’t it?” “This is the right way”, it’s a statement and it sounds, you know, certain if I say it that way. “This is the right way.” But if I add “isn’t it?”, it may be because I’m a little uncertain about it and I’m seeking for validation. Or maybe I need someone to tell me if it’s the right way or not. “This is the right way, isn’t it?”

There are different types of tag questions. Today, we’re going to focus on two: a positive statement with a negative tag, or a negative statement with a positive tag. So, for example, if I take a positive statement “You remember me”, “You remember me” – positive, the tag needs to be in the negative form. “You remember me, don’t you?” “You remember me, don’t you?” To say, “You remember me, do you?” would be incorrect. “You remember me, don’t you?”

If I start with a negative statement, “You don’t remember me”, then the tag needs to be positive – “do you?” “You don’t remember me, do you?” It would be incorrect to say, “You don’t remember me, don’t you?” Okay? So, you always balance it: positive with negative, negative with positive.

Now let’s talk about the two different intonation patterns that we can use in TAG questions and what they mean. So first let’s talk about the patterns. There is rising intonation, where your pitch goes up. Pitch is the tone of voice, the frequency of your voice. So it goes up. “aaaAAA”, try it with me. “aaaAAA”. We use it a lot for yes-no questions. “Are you hungry?” “Do you want to go?” “Are you sad?” “aaaAAA”. So we start low and we go up.

And there is falling intonation, usually associated with statement, where we start and then we drop down – “AAAaaa”. “I’m hungry”. “It’s dark”. “Let’s go”. “Let’s go” – rising. “Let’s go”. Now in tag questions, the first part will always have a falling intonation, and then the second part will either have a rising intonation or falling intonation.

So let’s look at the example. “It’s a bit late”. “It’s a bit late”. That’s the first part, the statement, falling intonation. “It’s a bit late”. And then the next part, “isn’t it?”, could be either rising – “isn’t it?”, or falling – “isn’t it”.

Try it with me. “It’s a bit late, isn’t it?” – rising. “It’s a bit late, isn’t it”. Now what’s the difference? When you use rising intonation in the second part, the tag, it usually suggests that you are uncertain, that you’re seeking for a response, that you’re asking, you’re really asking a question. “It’s a bit late, isn’t it?”

So usually if I would say it like that, I would want someone to say, “Yeah, it’s really late”. Or, “No, you know what? It’s not that late. We can still make it happen”. Okay? But when I use the falling intonation, “It’s a bit late, isn’t it”, I’m not actually seeking for confirmation, I’m not really asking, I’m really making a statement. Okay? And maybe softening it a little bit. “It’s a bit late, isn’t it”, right? It’s not open for discussion really when I use this falling intonation.

Now let’s look at another example. “You remember me, don’t you?” “You remember me, don’t you?” I’m actually asking, waiting for a response. “You remember me, don’t you”, I know that you remember me, right? I’m just softening it a little bit. “You remember me, don’t you”. Right? Don’t try to hide it. I can see it. “You remember me, don’t you?” Here I might be a little surprised that you may not remember me, and I’m actually asking.

Let’s try another one. “He doesn’t like spicy food, does he?” That’s a real question. “He doesn’t like spicy food”, I’m assuming, but I want confirmation. “He doesn’t like spicy food, does he?” “He doesn’t like spicy food, does he”. It’s almost like I’m making a statement using this tag question, but I’m making a statement about him and his affiliation with spicy foods.

Okay, let’s try another one. “It isn’t raining, is it?” Try it with me, rising intonation. “It isn’t raining” – falling, “is it?” – rising. “It isn’t raining, is it”, right? I’m making a point here. “It isn’t raining, is it”. So why aren’t you outside doing what you need to do?

Now, if you want to practice it a bit more, because that’s the only way to turn something into a habit, both in terms of your grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation, the best way is repetition. I prepared for you a practice sheet with a bunch of different types of tag questions with the different intonation patterns for you to practice. There’s also an audio recording. It’s absolutely free and I am making it available to you. So click the link below.

If you’re listening to the podcast, look for the link in the description, download it and practice with me. So you can make it a habit and start using it more frequently, or even just so that you can start understanding it better when people use it around you.

Okay, that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you enjoyed it, please consider liking, sharing, and subscribing to my channel. And come check out my website hadarshemesh.com for more information and more resources for you to practice with.

Also, if you’re a podcast lover, check out the InFluency Podcast, where I share two episodes every single week. You can find it on your favorite platform. Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. It is a beautiful day, isn’t it? I’ll see you soon. Talk to you in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
379. Using Tag Questions the Right Way - English Pronunciation

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