I have a question regarding the question-tag. I hear that the negative question-tag can be made out of the following construction: helping verb + subject + not?

I have a meeting every day, don't I/do I not?

You should see me today, shouldn't you/should you not?

I am a great teacher, aren't I/am I not?

They had better do it, hadn't they/had they not?

They used to be kind, usedn't they/used they not?

Are all the ones in bold type grammatical?

1 Answer 1


I think the last one is technically correct but it would never be used (at least not in the USA).

I'm not sure it would even be used in British English, either (the dictionary says that usedn't and usen't are archaic).

Instead, we (again, in the USA) would say:

They used to be kind, didn't they/did they not?

I can find several grammar guides confirming this but none of them explain the reason why "used to" breaks the typical rule.

Other examples per the comments of tagged questions in the present tense:

I had better tell them now, hadn't I / had I not?

I should tell them now, shouldn't I / should I not?

I must tell them now, musn't I / must I not?

Hadn't can also serve in the past tense:

I had told them, hadn't I / had I not?

I think the thing that was tripping me up is that using hadn't question tag in the present tense is much more common in the UK than in the USA.

  • Thanks, rpeinhardt. So, "had they not" and "hadn't they" are both grammatical in the negative "had better" tag-question, right? Oct 10, 2019 at 22:50
  • Do these two constructions also apply to the negative question? For instance: Hadn't I better tell them now?/had I better not tell them now? Oct 10, 2019 at 22:59
  • What if I wanna say "had I better not tell them now"? Is this grammatical, Oct 10, 2019 at 23:26
  • In the case of "Had I better not tell them now?" you are asking a question whereas when you say "I had better thell them now, hadn't I?" You are making a statement and confirming/tagging it with a question. Because it's a different type of sentence, "Had I better not tell them now?" would not work.
    – Rykara
    Oct 10, 2019 at 23:31
  • No. I am done with the question-tag. Your explanation is crystal clear. Now, I am asking about the negative question. Does the alternative construction also apply to the negative "had better" question? Oct 10, 2019 at 23:33

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