A question tag turns a simple word, phrase or sentence into a question. Simple, right?
While some question tags are universal, other tags are specific to cultures around the world. Here's a quick list of common tags:
- It's hot today, isn't it?—Universal to all English speakers.
- That shop sells iced coffee, right?—Universal to all English speakers.
That looks good, huh?—USA, mostly.
- It's expensive, eh?—Canada, New Zealand, and some parts of Britain.
- I'm gonna go. You're coming, yeah?—Some parts of Australia.
These words are used to either ask for or assume agreement from the listener, to add emphasis, or to confirm or check the listener's understanding.
Universal question tags
You may be familiar with some tags, such as grammatical question tags that change a statement into a question. The difference is that grammatical question tags change depending on the subject of the sentence: "It is... isn't it?"; "You are... aren't you?"; "They are... aren't they?"; etc.
Casual question tags, however, like "right?", don't change based on grammar. They stay the same no matter what the subject is. In fact, "right?" is probably the most common question tag because it's used everywhere people speak English, and you don't have to change it depending on grammar.
Cultural question tags
If you've spent time in the USA, or if you love watching Hollywood movies, you might say "huh?" Because American culture is dominant around the world, this is a common thing to hear and use. Feel free to use it yourself.
Canadians are proud of using "eh?" (pronounced like the end of "day"). If you've lived in Canada or are planning to travel there, you can use it to fit in. New Zealanders also use "eh?", as do some British people, but Canada is the most famous for it. Say "eh?" if you are in Canada and you'll sound like a true Canadian!
On top of typical question tag meanings—to check for understanding or agreement or show emphasis— "eh" can also be used to check if the listener is still interested. Furthermore, you can say "eh" by itself to show surprise or agreement.
In Australia, some people say "yeah?" but it's not quite as common as the Canadian "eh?" or American "huh?" If you are planning on traveling or living in Australia, check with local people or listen to see if it's being used.
Many other languages use question tags, too. The Japanese "hé?" (/heː/) is a common exclamation used to express surprise. It is also used when the listener did not fully understand or hear what the speaker said. "Ne?" and "naa?" are very similar to the Canadian "eh?"; both are statement ending and ask for or assume agreement from the listener.
In Spanish, "¿No?" (equivalent to "no" in English) is often added to the end of a statement to change it into a question or give emphasis, e.g., "Hace buen tiempo, ¿no?" (The weather is nice, isn't it?) Spaniards, especially in Catalan, also use "eh" to add emphasis, as in, "¡Te vas a caer de la silla, eh!" (You're going to fall if you keep doing that!) "Che" has a similar function.
People the world over use question tags. English has a number of them, depending on who is speaking and where they live. A few more universal question tags in English are "okay?”, “yes?” and “you know?"; and there are plenty of regional variations, too.
So, if you plan to spend time in an English-speaking part of the world, try using the local question tags. Pay attention to common usage and check with locals. Easy, huh?