How can we ask a question tag for the following questions? Negative or positive?

The boys problems are physical not mental,...?

They were warned not to climb the mountain in such bad weather, ...?

Is it correct to use negative question tag?

3 Answers 3


The purpose of a tag is to check for agreement. In the first case I simply wouldn't tag at the end but split into two sentences. Then there are two alternatives.

The boy's problems are physical, aren't they? They aren't mental.

The boy's problems are physical. They aren't mental, are they?

The second has a clear positive verb and so the tag would normally be negative. The negative verb in the infinitive clause is not being questioned.

They were warned not to climb the mountain in such bad weather, weren't they?

I've also stressed the verb "were", as would be natural, if this was in doubt.


For the first time you can ask

The boys problems are physical not mental, are they not?/aren't they?

you say it with a negative "aren't they" confirming if they really are or not, for the second one you can say

They were warned not to climb the mountain in such bad weather, were they not?/weren't they?

which basically points out that the asker makes it certain "They were warned about it, right?"


There are several uses for the tag in a tag question.

  1. To convert the foregoing statement into a question
  2. To ask a rhetorical question following a statement
  3. To ask a genuine question following a statement
  4. To challenge a statement

For the first three above, the tag must always be positive in contrast to a negative statement, or negative in contrast to a positive statement.

For example:

[Neg. -> Pos.] "They didn't go, did they?"
[Pos. -> Neg.] "He will be there, won't he?"

For the challenge tag, both sides must be positive.

For example:

[Pos. -> Pos.] "So, you will skip school today, will you?" (Challenging)

The modal verbs or helping/auxiliary verbs are made positive or negative (via an adverb) according to their type.

Type Positive Negative Negative Contraction
Modal can cannot can't
Modal could could not couldn't
Modal will will not won't
Modal would would not wouldn't
Modal shall shall not shan't
Modal should should not shouldn't
Modal may may not mayn't
Modal might might not mightn't
Modal must must not mustn't
Modal need need not needn't
Being is is not isn't
Being am am not aren't
Being are are not aren't
Being was was not wasn't
Being were were not weren't
Helping has has not hasn't
Helping have have not haven't
Helping had had not hadn't
Helping do do not don't
Helping does does not doesn't
Helping did did not didn't

Note that in all cases, the portion of the tag to be made negative must be one of these verbs which has a contracted form--and the same verb. If it cannot be made into a contraction, it is a lexical verb, and must have a helping verb added to the tag.

For example:

"He likes ice cream, doesn't he?"
"She got all A's in school, didn't she?"
"They moved away, did they not?"

[INCORRECT] "He has taught in your class, isn't it?" (Mismatched verbs: has <-> is)

Be careful of "to have." It can function as either a lexical verb, or as a helping verb. If it is helping, use it in the tag. If not, use "do."

For example:

"You have a textbook, don't you?" ("Have" is the primary verb; use of "haven't" in the tag is outmoded.)
"You have taken that class, haven't you?" ("Taken" is the lexical verb, and "have" is helping.)

In both of the example questions presented in the OP, the statements are positive (as indicated by the verbs), so, unless the intent is to ask a challenge question, the tags should be negative, following the rules described here.

Exceptions: There are other ways of making a tag, such as simply saying "right?" or "correct?" or "true?" If the tag has no verb, there is no need to match the verb of the statement. Some will also use a "tag" that presents its own complete clause, e.g. "They climbed the mountain, isn't that true?" This is not really just a tag anymore, but rather a grammatically complete question containing the verb's own object or complement, which is why it seems to break the rules.

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