Tag question of negative form



Positive statements that contain adverbs never, rarely, hardly are treated as negative statements

She can rarely come this week, can she?

He never visits you again, does he?

How about this one?

She looks unhappy, does she?

Is that right?


Posted 2016-01-08T04:45:41.927

Reputation: 1 619

1It may not be proper grammar (or it is and just sounds poor) but you commonly hear: "She looks unhappy, doesn't she?" – lurker – 2016-01-08T04:59:31.633

@lurker: so, unhappy is not treated as a negative statement? It is just the same with: She looks happy, doesn't she? – Student – 2016-01-08T05:09:11.443

The question tag mainly depends on the verb and not anything else. It does not matter whether or not the word other than that verb is negative! Said that, focus on 'looks' rather than 'unhappy'. – Maulik V – 2016-01-08T05:57:37.777


From GoogleBooks (1998): "He added cheerfully, 'Her Majesty looks unhappy, doesn't she?'" The matter is, the word unhappy is not an adverb but an adjective here. The verb look is a copular verb.

– CowperKettle – 2016-01-08T06:18:55.620

Nobody said it's the verb that has to be negative to make a statement negative, did they? :) – Jim Reynolds – 2016-01-10T10:34:53.140

The first two statements sound awkward for unrelated reasons, by the way. "Rarely" means "not often", but it's not an exact replacement; a week seems like too small of a scale for it to apply to a person's visits. And in "he never visits you again", you probably mean "he never visits you anymore". – mattdm – 2016-01-10T17:24:50.517



Affirmative (i.e. not negated) statements get negative tag questions after them, negative (i.e. with negated verbs) questions get a positive tag question after it.

He's sad, isn't he?

Aaditya didn't play soccer today, did he?



Negative adverbs are a special case.

You do hardly any work, do you?

They are also negators, causing the use of the positive tag question.

However, "unhappy" and other negatively-charged adjectives such as "negative" or "inexcusable" don't affect the "sign" (for lack of a better term i.e. positive vs negative statements) of the sentence due to not being an adverb. They thus get the regular tag rules applied to them.

She looks unhappy, doesn't she?

Negative subjects e.g. none of, nobody, no-one, nothing also affect the "sign" of the statement.

Nobody's here, are they?

Imperatives have different rules for tagging.

Close the door, would you?

A person is asking you to close the door.

Go faster, won't you?

You are not going fast right now, and the other speaker is demanding that you go faster.


As you see by the density of this post, the tag question grammar is pretty complex.

Jim Reynolds:

Oh you've covered the special cases, have you?

Trying to explain this will just bloat the answer up even more. You'll realize that people also do +/+ and -/- questions as well in not-careful speech. (A significant percentage of tag questions uttered casually violate like this.) Best advice is try to pick up the native speaker's intuition and run with it. People will help you if you make a grammar mistake. It's a gradual process of learning.


Posted 2016-01-08T04:45:41.927

Reputation: 4 502

You hardly do any work means "you don't do any work", right? It has negative sense. – Student – 2016-01-08T05:38:39.447

How about this one? – Student – 2016-01-08T13:04:34.900

Updated to cover several special cases. – Nihilist_Frost – 2016-01-08T15:18:08.740

1Oh you've covered the special cases, have you? :p – Jim Reynolds – 2016-01-09T02:56:56.157

@JimReynolds: I am not lost, are I? – Student – 2016-01-09T13:43:08.437

@Nihilist_Frost: I have noticed your answer, before and after it was edited. So, being a native speaker, you yourself were confused? – Student – 2016-01-09T13:48:16.330

+1 For a well-presented partial treatment of tag questions. According to the current Wikipedia article on the topic, tag questions in English are "atypically complex". If complexity is the norm, is it necessarily best to shield learners from it? The article cites a source claiming that the polarities of statement-tag pairs are balanced (+/+ or -/-) in 40-50% of utterances. So we simplify at a price. I think too great of one. – Jim Reynolds – 2016-01-10T15:15:09.873

@mattdm This is why I didn't address those two original statements in my answer. – Nihilist_Frost – 2016-01-10T16:58:21.800

Ooh, that was meant to be a comment on the question, not your answer. Sorry; I'll move it. – mattdm – 2016-01-10T17:24:38.010


No, although "unhappy" is a negative prefix + "happy", this is a negation of the adjective. The verb itself is positive still, and tag questions negate the verb.

She doesn't look happy, does she?

She looks unhappy, doesn't she?

Senjougahara Hitagi

Posted 2016-01-08T04:45:41.927

Reputation: 1 678

"Tag questions negate the verb": I'm not sure what you mean. Consider: No one likes me, do they? Consider: Oh you do, do you? – Jim Reynolds – 2016-01-10T16:55:09.960

Good point. I mean normally, you follow positive statements with "don't", and negative with "do", and statement positivity is based on the verb usually. I think statements with subjects like "nobody" and "no one" are special cases, because of the "no". At least to me, sentences that start with them feel like negative statements. – Senjougahara Hitagi – 2016-01-11T12:22:28.320


She looks unhappy, does she?

is grammatical, but it often expresses a different meaning than

She looks unhappy, doesn't she?

depending on the context and on intonation (rising or falling pitch over the pronunciation of the tag).

In both cases, the polarity of the statement She looks unhappy is positive.

She looks happy is also positive.

A negative statement would be She doesn't look happy or She doesn't look unhappy. She never looks [adjective] is also negative.

She looks [adjective] is positive whether she looks happy or unhappy, rich or poor, pretty or ugly, or indeed positive or negative.

We usually think of the prototypical tag question as one that balances a positive statement with a negative tag (and a negative statement with a positive tag):

She looks unhappy, doesn't she? +,-

She doesn't look unhappy, does she? -,+

If we say She looks unhappy, doesn't she? with a rising intonation over the tag, we are probably asking a true question and probably want a response (confirmation or agreement). If we say it with a falling or flat intonation, we are probably asking a rhetorical question (making an observation) and don't expect a reply.

However, it is surprisingly common for us to ask unbalanced tag questions:

She looks unhappy, does she? +,+

This is grammatical. It may express doubt, irony, concern, a challenge, annoyance, or possibly other connotations which elude me, primarily distinguished by intonation and nonverbal information within a given context.

He never visits you again, does he?

Your second example is grammatical, but has only a certain kind of meaning that occurs when we use the bare infinitive to talk about the future, such as to give a special kind of dramatic effect.

To give the meaning that you probably intend, we need a different tense and auxiliary. Maybe:

He never visits you anymore, does he?

He has never visited you again, has he?


He will never visit you again, will he?

Jim Reynolds

Posted 2016-01-08T04:45:41.927

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