If the main sentence is an imperative sentence, such as,

"Do it at once,"

Grammatically speaking, should the tag question that follows the imperative sentence be "will you?" or "won't you?" not "don't you?"


I disagree with the accepted answer. Tags are actually fairly commonly used with the imperative mood to make it a stronger command or request. Both negative and positive tags can appear with imperative sentences, and what form the tag question is used in depends on the context and generates nuances in meaning. In certain contexts a positive tag following an imperative is preferred as it introduces another layer of forcefulness and authoritativeness. It is heard very often in informal speech.

Shut up, will you? (Plenty of examples of this on Google Books, among them: book by George Ham, book by William Wall, and many others)

Leave me alone, will you? (Examples of this also abound on Google Books counting among them: work by renowned poet Charles Bukowski, book by Claudia Carroll, and oh you can't forget the legendary Vladimir Nabokov's classic Lolita can you now?)

Close the door, will you? (Too many examples, among them: book by Olen Steinhauer)

Come with me, will you? (Many examples including this sentence by Barbara Taylor Bradford)

I think at this point I don't have to continue listing examples from Google Books, as obviously there are a plethora of them. Reinforcing an imperative with a positive tag is very common in colloquial English.

Now as for the sentence at issue. Ending it with different tags brings about different subtleties.

Do it at once, will you not?

This sounds slightly formal and also a bit dated.

Do it at once, won't you?

This sounds like the speaker wants to confirm the volition of the listener and the recipient of the demand with the tag question.

Do it at once, will you?

This is slightly informal in register but also comes with a definitive and authoritative tone. A very likely subtext: "I expect you to do it at once."

Apart from these tags, you also have a multitude of other options: "could you?" "can't you" "would you?" "why don't you?" "why can't you?" I won't go into much details with each one of these.

Do it at once, could/would you?

Some people like to make demands with "class". It is still an order but softened and toned down with a polite "could/would you".

|improve this answer|||||
  • @KentaroDonatesForMonica "Do it at once, must you?" is also an idiomatic tag. In short, there is more than just will or won't that can be used. (Also, should and could, among others.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Dec 22 '19 at 13:47

Tags are not usually used with imperative sentences in modern English, but if used, it should be "won't you?" in your example. There is then an implied "You will ..." preceding the sentence, i.e.:

(You will) do it at once, won't you?

|improve this answer|||||
  • Thank you! I can confirm now that our country's educational system is 100 years behind and not teaching "real English". poof. – Kentaro Dec 15 '19 at 19:59
  • Well, I actually think positive tags with imperative sentences are more common. – Eddie Kal Dec 15 '19 at 20:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.