"We've never played that game before have we not James?"
Is this correct? I say it's incorrect, my wife says it is correct. I believe it should be
"We've never played that game before have we James?"
We can add an extra short clause to the end of sentences to turn them into questions. These involve subject auxiliary inversion and are usually two words. We call them question tags. In general, positive sentences in English take negative question tags:
You will notice that in the second example there is no negative contraction (the negation is analytic) and the tag has three words.
Negative sentences usually take positive tags:
So most tags in English are reverse-polarity tags. However, we can also have positive tags with positive sentences. Instead of being fairly neutral, these are said to be marked. In other words they give some extra effect, or imply some extra meaning:
The sentence above can be read as being challenging, as if the speaker does not believe the addressee. This might be an exchange at the entrance to a night club—in which case we might expect the next sentence to be "Can I see your ID, please?"
In contrast, negative sentences with negative tags are widely considered to be ungrammatical:
However, you will notice that the examples above are marked with a % symbol instead of the usual *. The reason for this is that such tags are considered grammatical by a minority of users.
For the majority of speakers, who find negative tags on negative clauses ungrammatical, this is a useful and well known test to see if a clause has negative or positive polarity. So we can see this contrast with the following pair of sentences:
The determiner few is a negative word and makes the main clauses above negative. The negative tag in the second example is therefore unacceptable. We can show that this isn't true for the determiner a few, which has a positive meaning:
The fist example with a positive tag sounds marked. The speaker sounds surprised. The negative tag sounds quite normal.
However, such tests won't work of course with speakers for whom negative-negative tags are grammatical.
Can we invoke the rule of the majority here? Can we say that because most speakers of standard English won't accept negative-negative tags, that they are ungrammatical? The answer is no. A significant proportion of speakers of standard English have no such rule forbidding negative-negative tags. Their English is just as English and just as grammatical as anyone else's. So, instead, the strongest thing we can say is that negative-negative tags (technically 'negative constant polarity tags') are ungrammatical for a majority of speakers.