8

Typically, when we ask for confirmation/denial of a statement, we say something like the following:

We turn left here, don't we?
You have a cat, don't you?
We've met before, haven't we?

pairing a positive statement with a negative question, or

We don't need that, do we?
You don't know anything about this, do you?

pairing a negative statement with a positive question.

However, sometimes positive statements are paired with a positive question

We take a left, do we?
You had to be a big shot, did you?
You've been to Prague, have you?

Is this correct? Does it change the meaning in any way? Are the three forms interchangeable?

  • The lase set sounds unnatural, or at least unfamiliar, to me. – Kris Apr 17 '12 at 22:05
  • 1
    @Kris I agree, unless you read them with a very sarcastic tone, "oh, we take a left do we? I guess you know everything!" – Cameron Apr 17 '12 at 22:17
  • 1
    Indeed, each question in the third set sounds awkward. What you might hear, though, is "You've been to Prague, right?" which can lead to some humorous confusion with the initial example, i.e.: "We take a left, right?" – J.R. Apr 18 '12 at 1:17
  • I thought these were related but separate sentences and so I always wrote them a semicolon: "We turn left here; don't we?" Is this not (more) correct? – kjpires Feb 7 '17 at 22:25
9

No, they aren't interchangeable.

A tag question is a device used to turn a statement into a question. It nearly always consists of a pronoun, a helping verb, and sometimes the word not. Although it begins as a statement, the tag question prevails when it comes to the end-mark: use a question mark. Notice that when the statement is positive, the tag question is expressed in the negative; when the statement is negative, the tag question is positive. (There are a few exceptions to this, frequently expressing an element of surprise or sarcasm: [examples omitted])

Source: Capital Community College Foundation, Guide to Grammar & Writing (2004).

  • 2
    While I appreciate how early this answer was in your career on ELU.SE, and that rules have only been codified since then, it appears to be plagiarised and is liable to deletion. Please attribute and link the text. – Andrew Leach Sep 2 '15 at 12:32
7
+50

Tag questions always swap negative values; like multiplying by minus one.

Although tags with two negatives are impossible:

  • *You never went there, didn't you?
  • *She isn't coming tonight, isn't she?

Tags with two positives do occur, as noted.
However, they are a different construction; they're not questions, but challenges:

  • She's coming tonight, is she?
  • We turn left here, do we?

Each of these will be delivered with quite different intonation than what a genuine question would have. In addition, each of these can be preceded by a very dramatic So, ...

  • So, she's coming tonight, is she?
  • So, we turn left here, do we?

In effect, instead of actually asking for information, the speaker in this construction is challenging the addressee to a confrontation of some sort; one might be said by a wife to a husband about an ex-wife, for instance, and the other by a passenger to a driver while lost.

-1

There are not in fact three groups and the choices are not positive/negative; negative/positive; positive/positive.

The choices are statement/positive or statement/negative. The difference that far is immense and the difference between statement/positive and statement/negative is largely irrelevant.

Who doubts that analysis is welcome to explain the difference between ‘You don't know anything about this, do you?’ and ‘You know nothing about this, do you?’ The latter might appear neg/pos but in fact is clearly pos/pos. ‘You know nothing’ is not a negative statement.

As is is so often the case, changing the examples completely confuses the issue and although yoozer8’s choices made sense in themselves, we should rather consider:

We turn left here, don't we? You have a cat, don't you? We've met before, haven't we?

as compared to

We turn left here, do we? You have a cat, do you? We've met before, have we?

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