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What should be an appropriate question-tag to use for the following sentence:

You should not have scolded the child.

I want to go with "should you have?" but the Teachers' Textbook I refer to says "should you?" I know that that is wrong, but is it really?

  • 2
    Your textbook is right. You should parse the sentence this way but : You/should not/ have scolded/the child. Whether you have "scold" or "have scolded" doesn't change anything to the tag question. – Laure Mar 10 '14 at 7:01
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Everybody will understand if you say:

You should not have scolded the child, shouldn't you have?

there's nothing grammatically wrong with it, but it is not usual to have two auxiliaries in this sort of tags. And I would advise you strongly not to use it in an EFL exam.

The tag is built with the auxiliary that has the most influence on the meaning of the sentence. In your example have is the auxiliary that helps build the present perfect tense, it only modifies "scold (the child)".
Should is a modal auxiliary, it helps expressing the speaker's opinion towards the action that follows (in your sentence reproach towards "you"). It influences the whole group: present perfect verb ("have scolded") plus object ("the child"). The modal takes precedence over the tense auxiliary.

Other examples:

You can't have eaten the whole cake, can you?
He'll be coming shortly, won't he?

Your next question might be: what about if we have two modals, in the same verb group? Well, that is grammatically impossible in English. When two different modalities have to be expressed, one of the modal verbs is replaced by a lexical verb.
Let's say we want to express the idea of advice (indicated in English by modal "should") together with ability (expressed by modal "can"). In that case we substitute the modality usually expressed by "can" by a lexical verbal that conveys the same idea:

He should have been able to finish that work on time, shouldn't he?

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The English tag question is made up of an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. I searched on the Internet and could not find enough examples of the question-tags ending with a verb in general.

This said,

You shouldn't have scolded the child, should you? -sounds better to me.

However, variant forms exist in different dialects (for instance, the tag right is common in Indian dialect). More information here.

  • Maulik, you are right about the composition of a question-tag. However, this one is an exception. Not an exception per se, but a verb with two auxiliaries - should and have. Hence, I am sure that the question-tag should be 'shouldn't you have'. – Neil D'Silva Mar 10 '14 at 6:00
  • No, I am not interested in the tags. I am looking for formal usage only, as required in school-level examinations. – Neil D'Silva Mar 10 '14 at 6:01
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    @NeilD'Silva: Maulik is right. The only auxiliary to be considered is should. Have is part of the present perfect form of "scold". – Laure Mar 10 '14 at 6:58
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    @NeilD'Silva. Everybody will understand if you say "You should not have scolded the child, shouldn't you have?", there's nothing grammatically wrong with it, but it is not usual to have two auxiliaries in this sort of tags. The tag is built with the auxiliary that has the most influence on the sentence. In your example "has" only modifies "scold the child", it indicates the tense, modal "should" sheds light on the whole group "have scolded a child", the modal takes precedence over the tense auxiliary. "You can't have finished the cake, can you?" "He won't be coming late, will he?" etc. – Laure Mar 10 '14 at 14:43
  • 1
    @Laure if your comment was an answer I would vote for it. – Nico Mar 10 '14 at 17:20

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