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The concept is that whatever is being asked, is negated when expressing uncertainty or confirmation from the recipient.

You do know what's up, don't you?
They won't show up, will they?

But what if the negation is semantic not grammatical?

  1. That should hardly matter, shouldn't it?
  2. That should hardly matter, should it?
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  • Can you please add the tag-question tag? Thanks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 27, 2023 at 18:57
  • You get the standard negation when using the negative "That shouldn't matter, should it?"
    – ljden
    Feb 28, 2023 at 1:13
  • @Mari-LouA I have added it now. May I ask why you felt it was needed? Feb 28, 2023 at 12:12
  • So that users can find questions that ask about (directly or not) question tags (UK) tag questions (US) more easily.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 28, 2023 at 21:16
  • @Mari-LouA Ah, you see, I was ignorant of the meaning of tag question. Assumed that it was just any question with some tag (and there's a requirement on ELL that each question is tagged with at least a single tag). They say: assumption is mother of all duckups for a reason... I stand corrected and appreciate the opportunity to have learned a new term. Thanks. Mar 1, 2023 at 5:40

1 Answer 1

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'Hardly' makes the main clause negative, so the question tag should be in affirmative form. Whatever auxiliary verb appears in the main clause should usually be repeated in the question tag. This applies to most (all?) semantically negative adverbs placed before the main verb. If there is no auxiliary verb, use do in the correct tense. The exceptions are 'to be' (repeat 'be' in the right tense and to have (you can choose between 'do' and 'have').

  • That should hardly matter, should it?
  • John has very little money, doesn't/hasn't he?
  • Claudia can do almost nothing to help, can she?
  • Idle talk seldom helps, does it?
  • Ali rarely visits his aunt, does he?

But adjectives that have a negative meaning usually take a negative question tag. The same applies to adverbs placed (correctly) after the verb:

  • Fido would make a poor bloodhound, wouldn't he?
  • Fido performed poorly at the dog show, didn't he?
  • Ali visits his aunt very rarely, doesn't he?

Be careful what you consider a negative meaning. 'slowly', for example, is not usually semantically negative, nor is to 'stay/go/become quiet'.

  • She opened the door slowly, didn't she?
  • Roxette always barks when I come in, but stays quiet when you do, doesn't she?

You can of course also say (for example):

  • Fido performed poorly at the dog show, did he?

but that changes the meaning a little. The sentence is no longer an affirmative sentence inviting (and possibly expecting) a confirmation from the listener but rather a real question. The speaker really wants to know whether poor old Fido scored poorly in the competition.

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  • 2
    I feel sorry for poor Fido. Feb 27, 2023 at 9:12
  • 2
    So did I as I wrote it, but then I realised that his owner loves him dearly and Fido doesn't give a damn about rosettes!
    – Jaime
    Feb 27, 2023 at 10:10
  • I find this: John has very little money, doesn't/hasn't he? poorly worded to be relevant in that section. Would you agree that: John has virtually no money, does/has he? is better suited? Or did I miss the point? Feb 27, 2023 at 10:29
  • Oh! If you mean that the sentence in question is in the wrong list, you're perfectly right! ;-)
    – Jaime
    Feb 27, 2023 at 10:47
  • Your example seems to me irrelevant to the question, as it is explicitly negative (it contains an explicit 'no'). You may well be right if what you're trying to suggest is that "John has very little money, has/does he?" might also be possible in some dialects. But maybe I'm missing your point.
    – Jaime
    Feb 27, 2023 at 10:59

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