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I'm having a difficult time dealing with the word 'without' in the sentence below:

He passed the exam without your help, ... he?

Please help me clarify which will be the best fit in this context - 'did' or 'didn't'? (as I notice that 'without' has negative meaning).

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    'without' doesn't have a grammatical negative meaning
    – yewgeniy
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 13:08
  • Are you asking whether he did, or saying that he did and seeking confirmation? Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 13:17
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    It should be: He passed the exam without your help, didn't he? Compare: You didn't help him pass the exam, did you?
    – nschneid
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 13:28
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    @nschneid - Yes, if the speaker is saying that they believe he did and seeking confirmation. "[So} he passed the exam without your help, did he?" would be asking the question in mild surprise or incredulity. Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 14:07
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    You can use either, read more here: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/tags
    – Nameless
    Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 14:32

3 Answers 3

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I am new to this but this is what I think:

If I expand the question, it'd be: He DID pass the exam without your help, _______ he? Moreover, without your help this is not a verb which means that it cannot be used, (IDK I am just a Primary 6 pupil) hence, it is didn't he. In addition, grammatically, you cannot add DID before without your help. Hence, it grammatically does not make sense if you put 'did he'. Without your help is a piece of additional information so yeah...

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If without is an adverb, I (a native speaker) would treat it as giving the sentence a negative meaning. For example, I would use did he in the sentence:

He made do without, did he?

I am not at all sure that other native speakers would agree with me.

But if without is a preposition, it doesn't make a sentence negative. So for your question, the tag is:

He passed the exam without your help, didn't he?

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It is better to use didn't he?

We usually use question tags to ask someone to agree with our statement. In this case we use positive statement + negative tag or negative statement + positive tag.

He passed the exam without your help, didn't he?

Never, rarely, seldom, hardly, scarcely etc. have negative meanings. The statements with these adverbs are negative ones. So the question tags are positive. He seldom comes here, does he?

Sometimes we can use positive statement + positive tag when we don't know if the answer is 'yes' or 'no'. In this case the sentence should be 'He passed the exam without your help, did he?

You can visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g8LD4zA4ZI

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