"The children hardly have problems waking up early for school, _______?"

  1. do they
  2. don't they
  3. have they
  4. haven't they

I am not sure which is the right tag question, also called Question tag in BrEng.

Am I confident and only asking someone to confirm my statement?

  1. The children hardly have problems[…], do they?

Am I uncertain and want to know if I am wrong?

  1. The children hardly have problems […], don't they?

Should I repeat the same verb in the subordinate clause?

  1. Thee children hardly have problems[…], have they?

Or should the question tag be negative because the statement is positive?

  1. The children hardly have problems[…], haven't they?

I find question tags very confusing, as each of the four solutions appear to make sense to me.

  • 2
    This question is being discussed on meta at ell.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5772/… If the OP reads that thread, s/he will find several suggestions for how to improve this question, and others will find ideas about how to ask better questions. Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


OP's alternatives #2 and #4 are completely unacceptable in the cited context. The basic rule is that "tag" questions always negate the preceding "assertion", but in this case, the underlying assertion (the possibility that the children have problems) is already effectively negated by hardly (implying either they don't really have problems, or their problems are too trivial to count).

It's worth noting that the "internal negation" of the initial assertion would be the same if we replaced hardly by rarely, seldom, never, do not, or similar. Those are all "negative polarity" constructions, which cause any associated tag question to be in "positive" form.

As to the choice between have / do they? - this is effectively a matter of style / personal preference. The "logical" choice is have they? because it echoes the verb in the preceding assertion. But in practice, for reasons I can't readily explain, native speakers tend to use do they? far more often in such contexts.

  • 1
    The tag question "have they" should repeat the auxiliary "have". In the sentence: The've hardly had a wink of sleep, have they? The auxiliary in "have had" is used.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 11:15
  • An "unfortunate" example, because it includes two different uses of to have (auxiliary "perfect" 've and "possessive" as in They only had a brief nap). Your observation might be better illustrated by They have hardly slept, have they? Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 11:20
  • 1
    ...where if we discard hardly, the initial assertion isn't "negated", so the tag question will be in the negative: They have slept, haven't they? And for a "non-auxiliary" use of to have, it's We have money, haven't we? (but more idiomatically for many/most speakers, We have money, don't we?) Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 12:10
  • "(hardly) have problems" does not use the Present Perfect constructions, which is the point I was making. I chose a PP constructions have had a wink to show the OP the difference between the auxiliary and the main verb.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 12:47
  • 1
    Perhaps in BrE the most common form would be "We've got money, haven't we?" But I'm not criticising the answer, I upvoted actually.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 12:53

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