Monday, October 26, 2009

Question Tags : Rule No 2

Dear readers,

In my previous post I explained Question Tag Rule No 1 . In the present post I am going to discuss Rule No 2 which can be stated as follows:

The subject of the question tag is always a pronoun and the verb (operator) always agrees with it .

As you know, a Question Tag or a Tag Question is always attached to a statement and the statement has a subject of its own .

When the subject of a statement is a proper noun , the subject of the question tag should be its corresponding pronoun .


Tom is a clever boy, isn't he ?

Sita is a nice girl, isn't she ?

Tom and Sita are students, aren't they?

Cochin is a big city, isn't it ?

The Nile is the longest river in the world, isn't it?

When the subject of the statement is the sex-neutral pronoun everybody , nobody ,etc its corresponding pronoun is they, and the operator agrees with it . , even though it is plural!


Everybody makes mistakes, don't they?

Nobody is above law, are they?

Please note that when the first person pronoun I is the subject of a positive statement, the tag is aren't I , and NOT amn't I . But am I ? is perfectly OK!


Iam your guardian , aren't I ?

I am not your slave, am I ?

Dear readers, I will discuss the remaining rules in my next post

Thank you for visiting!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Question Tags : Rule No 1

Dear readers,

In my previous post I discussed question tags and gave 4 rules for their correct use . I think that these rules have to be discussed one by one in some more detail for the benefit of ESL learners .In this post I am going to discuss Rule No 1 .


When the statement is positive the tag is negative : and when the statement is negative the tag is positive

What is a positive statement ? Well, it may be defined as a declarative sentence noted for the absence of negative words like no , not etc .Examples

1. This apple is a good one, isn't it?

2 Everyone is liable to make mistakes, aren't they?

3 He is a good boy, isn't he ?

4 He is playing cricket, isn't he ?

5 There is a tea stall in front of rhe college , isn't there?

6 She used to work with him , didn't she?

7 She is used to living in luxury, isn't she ?

8 Honesty is the best policy, isn't it ?

9 She will be sixteen next year, won't she ?

10 I am your wife , aren't I ?

In the examples given above I have tried to include a few rare cases which deserve special attention .

1. When everyone is the subject ,the tag has they as the subject and the verb agrees with it .

2 Please note that sentences 3 & 4 have the same tag .( see my previous post for the structure of the tags)

3 '"There" in existential sentences can be used as subject of tags

4 In sentences 6&7 used to has two different meanings and hence two different tags .

5 Amn't I is not used in standard English .

The second part of Rule No 1 says that negative statements have positive tags . There are negative words besides no and not which can make statements negative

. See these examples

1 She hardly ever attends parties these days , does she ?

2 He never tells lies , does he ?

3 She has never gone abroad , has she ?

4 He scarcely talks sense , does he ?

5 We seldom see good movies these days, do we ?

6 She is seldom late for the show , is she?

7 This train hag only few stops , does it ?

8 There are only few mangoes in the basket, are there?

9 She does not play well , does she ?

10 It isn't true, is it ?

Dear readers , I will discuss the second rule in detail in my next post


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dear readers.

A question tag ,as you know , is a short question attached to a statement . The purpose of the question tag is (1) to get the listener's concurrence or (2) to elicit the answer yes or no from him .


1. English is a world language, isn't it?

If "isn't it" has a falling intonation ,the speaker expects the listener to agree with him and the listener need not say yes or no . !

2 He is an honest man. isn't he?

If "isn't he " has a rising intonation ,the speaker expects the listener to say yes or no .

There is no end to the trouble that question tags cause to the non-native learners of English .The crux of the problem is that question tag is a set phrase in most languages like n'est-ce pas ? in French .The English question tag is like the chameleon!

I am giving below a few question tag rules

1 )If the statement is positive the tag is negative , and vice-versa .

He is a good boy isn't he?

He is not a clever boy , is he ?

Remember, words like never , hardly, scarcely, seldom etc can make a statement negative .

2) The subject of the tag is always a pronoun If words like everyone nobody no-one etc are used as subjects in the statements . their pronoun is "they" and the verb agrees with it

Everyone makes mistakes , don't they?

3) the structure of the tag is operator +pronoun If the statement has no auxiliary as in the case of simple present and past tenses, the operator is the dummy auxiliary do, does or did

He went to school, didn't he ?

She plays tennis, doesn't she?

4)The tense of the tag should be the same as the tense of the statement .

He will go tomorrow, won't he?

She left yesterday , didn't she ?

He sings well, doesn't he?

What is the tag to the statement "I am a teacher" ?The correct answer is Aren't I " " It is because"am't" is non-standard!

Enough for question-tags .I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you for visiting ! !

Monday, October 12, 2009

Passive Voice : When to drop by+agent

Dear readers,

In my previous post I discussed passive voice from the point of view of sentence focus . In the present post I am going to discuss " agent deletion"in passive sentences .

Look at the following sentences

1 Tom is re-painting the car .

2The car is being re-painted by Tom

The meaning of both the sentences is the same .In the passive version the sentence elements, subject and object, are seen from a different perspective . The active subject (Tom)is seen as an agent (instrument) through the action of which the active object is in a certain state (re-painted) , indicated by the past participle of the verb . The past participle has the force of adjectives in passive sentences . That is why suitable forms of the verb be are used before it . Remember, the verb always agrees with the passive subject !

The active subject is expressed as a by + agent phrase But as end-focus is the rule in English ,by+agent is required only when we want to focus on it . Example

By whom is the car re-painted?

It is re-painted by Tom.(focus on Tom )

It follows that by-phrase can be dropped if it does not carry focus!

Generally speaking, by-phrase can be dropped if the agent is unknown or it is too well-known to be worth mentioning . Example

1 He was killed in a drunken brawl .

2 She was murdered and the police are investgating .

3 He was admitted to the hospital yesterday .

$ Obama was elected President.

5 Many American soldiers were killed in Vietnam.

Non-native learners of English may find it difficult to grasp the rationale behind English passive voice This is definitely due to the influence of their first languages .

Dear readers , I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you