A Perennial PSLE English Grammar Question - Auxiliary Verbs in Question Tags

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

Out of the 6 past year PSLE English questions below, how many can your primary school child get correct?

 

2019

"Tom gave up looking just as I said he would, ____________?" Greetha asked.

(1) didn't he

(2) hasn't he

(3) hadn't he

(4) wouldn't he


2018

"Suling's eaten her food, _________?" asked Mrs Tan.

(1) isn't she

(2) didn't she

(3) hasn't she

(4) doesn't she


2017

"You've conducted this kind of experiment before, ______?" the teacher asked the class.

(1) don't you

(2) didn't you

(3) hadn't you

(4) haven't you


2016

"Wen Xi arranged flowers on the table, ______?" her father asked.

(1) won't she

(2) didn't she

(3) hasn't she

(4) wasn't she


2015

"He'd be pleased to hear the good news, ___________?" asked Nurul.

(1) didn't he

(2) hadn't he

(3) couldn't he

(4) wouldn't he


2014

"She's left the room for some time, _________?" I asked.

(1) isn't she

(2) didn't she

(3) hasn't she

(4) wasn't she

 

All the sentences fall under the category of tag questions. A tag question (or question tag) is a short question used, usually at the end of a sentence, to ask the listener to show that he or she agrees with what has been said or to confirm that what has been said is true.


Tag questions are generally formed with auxiliary verbs, but they may also be formed with the lexical verbs be and have.


The 2016 and the 2019 questions pose a particular problem to many students.

Why is that so? That's because the auxiliary verb that should be paired with the question tag seems to be missing from the sentence.


Let's study the other questions first.


"You've conducted this kind of experiment before, ______?" the teacher asked the class.

"Suling's eaten her food, _________?" asked Mrs Tan.

"He'd be pleased to hear the good news, ___________?" asked Nurul.

"She's left the room for some time, _________?" I asked.


To answer the above questions, students first need to recognise the auxiliary verb written as a contraction in each sentence.

You've -> You have

Suling's -> Suling has

He'd -> He would

She's -> She has


Next, what we need to do is negate each of the auxiliary verbs and rephrase it as a question tag.

You have -> have you not / haven't you

Suling has -> has she not / hasn't she

He would -> would he not / wouldn't he

She has -> has she not / hasn't she


Now, let's examine the 2016 and 2019 questions.


"Tom gave up looking just as I said he would, ____________?" Greetha asked.

"Wen Xi arranged flowers on the table, ______?" her father asked.


Students have difficulty with these questions because the auxiliary verb seems to be missing from the sentences. Do you know what the 'missing' verb is? It's the same for both sentences: did.


"Tom gave up..." can be rewritten as "Tom did give up..."

"Wen Xi arranged flowers..." can be rewritten as "Wen Xi did arrange..."


Negating 'did' and rephrasing it as a question tag, we have 'didn't he/she'.

 

There are many other rules and variations of auxiliary verbs in tag questions, which we will discuss in a separate article.


In the meantime, see if you can fill in the question tags for the sentences below.


  1. Stephy shouldn't have ridden the unicorn, ___________ she?

  2. Jimmy plays the guitar, ___________ he?

  3. You know a lot about COVID-19, ___________ you?