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What is the right question tag (in British English) when we use the verb have? I have interviewed a few native speakers and none of them could explain why sometimes they prefer "haven't/hasn't" and why other times they prefer "don't/doesn't". Here are 4 different groups of sentences. Which ones are correct and which ones aren't and why?

Group 1

  1. I've got a good voice, haven't I?
  2. You've got a dog, haven't you?
  3. She's got a new boyfriend, hasn't she?
  4. We've got very good friends, haven't we?
  5. They've got our address, haven't they?

Group 2

  1. I have a good voice, don't I?
  2. You have a dog, don't you?
  3. She has a new boyfriend, doesn't she?
  4. We have very good friends, don't we?
  5. They have our address, don't they?

Group 3

  1. I've got a good voice, don't I?
  2. You've got a dog, don't you?
  3. She's got a new boyfriend, doesn't she?
  4. We've got very good friends, don't we?
  5. They've got our address, don't they?

Group 4

  1. I have a good voice, haven't I?
  2. You have a dog, haven't you?
  3. She has a new boyfriend, hasn't she?
  4. We have very good friends, haven't we?
  5. They have our address, haven't they?
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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

From the wikipedia article on question tags:

The English tag question is made up of an auxiliary verb and a pronoun. The auxiliary has to agree with the tense, aspect and modality of the verb in the preceding sentence. If the verb is in the present perfect, for example, the tag question uses has or have; if the verb is in a present progressive form, the tag is formed with am, are, is; if the verb is in a tense which does not normally use an auxiliary, like the present simple, the auxiliary is taken from the emphatic do form; and if the sentence has a modal auxiliary, this is echoed in the tag.

But then later on:

If the main verb is to have, either solution (does/has) is possible

Using this rule, group 2 and group 4 would both be correct. (As an AmE, I prefer group 2 with group 4 sounding awkward to a degree approaching incorrect, but I'm unsure about BritE)

Following the same rule, group 1 would be correct and group 3 incorrect as has/have is the auxiliary verb, and so it should be used in the question. However, as a native AmE speaker, this actually runs counter to my intuition as I would prefer group 3. I have a feeling this has to do with the 'have got' construction somehow affecting things.

Edit: updated because I should have read the whole thing

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So going by wikipedia, only groups 1 and 2 would be correct. Is that right? Is that how these are actually used in the U.K? –  Peter Shor Oct 31 '11 at 14:55
    
@PeterShor - Yeah, you caught me mid-edit there. 1 and 2 are correct by the 'rule' from WP. As my edit states though, I prefer group 3 to group 1, but I'm AmE. I agree with your other comment that group 1 sounds more 'British', though I'll leave it up to the UK natives to answer that definitively. –  Dusty Oct 31 '11 at 15:07
    
But in the Wikipedia page that you quoted it says: "If the main verb is to have, either solution is possible: - He has a book, hasn't he? / - He has a book, doesn't he?" This would seem to suggest that Group 4 is correct. What do you think? –  Martina Oct 31 '11 at 15:52
    
@Martina - See my edit above from a few min ago. –  Dusty Oct 31 '11 at 15:53

To me the rule is that the verb in the tag question should be the same as the auxiliary verb in the first part of the sentence (affirmative or negative). This may also apply to auxiliary verbs that would be used in the emphatic form of the first part of the sentence, which may or may not appear in such part, and to verbs which can act as both substantive and auxiliary. I would say group 1, 2 and 4 are correct, group 3 is not. I understand language is in a constant process of change (see Noam Chomsky's article 'Transformational Grammar') and what really matters is to make ourselves be understood by others when we use a language. The examples to illustrate my idea of the rule are as follows: I've got a good voice, haven't I? (Have - auxiliary) I (do) have a good voice, don't I? (Do - hidden auxiliary) I have a good voice, haven't I? (Have - substantive)

In Group 3 'I've got a good voice, don't I?' it is not possible to have 'do' as an hidden auxiliary as this form is already emphasized by 'got'. 'I do have got..' would be wrong. Thus, the tag question 'don't I?' is inconsistent with the verb 'have' in the first part of the sentence.

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In British English groups 1, 2 and 4 would be accepted as grammatically correct, though group 4 examples sound outdated. Group 3 examples would be defined as incorrect.

But language is defined by the people who use it, not by grammar books. I have the feeling group 3 examples are used more and more often, as AmE use is spread even among BrE speakers. Therefore, when you hear native English speakers use the examples you cite, it's safe for you to do the same.

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"Group 3 examples ... incorrect." - What grammar rule do these infringe? Presumably something that allows "She's got a new boyfriend, hasn't she?" (1) and "She has a new boyfriend, doesn't she?" (2) but not "She's got a new boyfriend, doesn't she?" (3). –  jwpat7 Oct 31 '11 at 16:32
    
@jwpat7: The rule is that you use the same auxiliary verb in the tag as appeared in the original sentence. See Dusty's answer. You can't say "She's moved to London, didn't she," because that follows "have" with "did". In American English, the participle "got" is an exception to the rule (not "gotten" -- that follows the rule). I'm now wondering whether British English speakers who use "do" with "have got" distinguish between the different meanings of the word "got" the way Americans do. –  Peter Shor Oct 31 '11 at 17:36
    
@Peter: You bring up a good point, but note that your "She's moved" example is fundamentally different from the examples in the question. When we say "She has a dog", "has" is a verb indicating possession. When we say "She has moved", "has" is not a stand-alone verb but a tense modifer for "moved". (I hadn't thought of that construct when I gave my answer and I would have answered somewhat differently if I had.) –  Jay Oct 31 '11 at 21:21
    
@Jay: I thought that my "She's moved" example parallels the "She's got" construction of groups 1 and 3. The participles "moved" and "got" aren't treated any differently in standard British English. –  Peter Shor Oct 31 '11 at 22:48
1  
@Jay: You're right that "have" (like "do" and "be") can be used both as an auxiliary and as a substantive verb. "Be" always patterns as an auxiliary even when it is substantive ("Is he?", "He's not" rather than "*Does he be?" "*He doesn't be"). "Do" never patterns as an auxiliary when it is substantive ("*He don't it"). But in British English "have" is like "be", and can pattern like an auxiliary even when it is substantive: "Have you [got] any?" Fifty years ago this was the only option: "Do you have ..." would not have been said by many Britons. –  Colin Fine Nov 1 '11 at 12:12

I think all your examples are grammatically correct and would be well understood by any English speaker. It's just a matter of choice of words. It's like the difference between asking, "Does she have a dog?", "Does she own a dog?", "Has she got a dog?", etc. All are equally valid and mean essentially the same thing.

Personally I think the "haven't I" construct is a little unusual and awkward. Expand the contractions and you're saying, "She has got a dog, has she not?" We don't use this construct with any word other than "to have" that I can think of. All others we use versions of "to do". We don't say, "She runs very fast, runs she not?", or "She eats too much, eats she not?" So I PREFER "doesn't she", but that's just a personal preference for consistency. (I can think of some examples from very old books, like "You thinketh that he speaks falsely, thinkest thou not?" But I thinkest this usage is mostly obsolete.)

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2  
British English? Group 3 sounds more American to me, and group 1 more British. In American English, we would use "have" for any present perfect participle except "got", in which case I believe we prefer group 3 rather than group 1. For example, "You've replied to her email, haven't you?" would be perfectly normal American (and in this case also British) English. In fact, I believe the past participles "got" and "gotten" behave differently in American English in this usage. So it's "you've gotten her email, haven't you," and "you've got her email, don't you." –  Peter Shor Oct 31 '11 at 15:07

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