Wednesday, November 30, 2011

You probably think this post is about tags, DON'T YOU?

Tag questions are as common in English as fleas are on dogs. They are used everyday in all kinds of situations.

To confirm information.

To let others know we know.

Yes, even to be a little sarcastic.

So, you probably know this post is about tag questions, don't you?

But just in case, we'll do a little review.

In short, a tag question is a statement with a short question at the end to confirm the first part. Something like this:
  • You're my new neighbor, aren't you?
  • Tom broke the printer, didn't he?
  • We can make it on time, can't we?

The structure is simple:
  • If the statement is positive, the short question is negative.
  • If the statement is negative, the short question is positive.

Notice the verbs?

  • Yes, if the auxiliary verb (can, be, have, do) is positive on one side, it's negative on the other
  • If there is no auxiliary (just a regular action verb: run, eat, fly, listen), use the auxiliary do with opposite logic on the other side.
  • Verbs on both sides are in the same tense.

Why tags?
  • Tags are used mostly in conversation when the person speaking is almost sure he or she is right, but wants confirmation from someone else.
  • Tags are also use to confirm what you already know, but wish to express to others.
  • Yet tags can additionally be used sarcastically, when the speaker is sure about something, but uses a special tone or emphasizes a certain word to "make believe" that there is still some doubt. The listener will quickly identify the sarcasm. The speaker might also make the statement opposite of what he or she actually believes.

Example: (Speaker believes the test was easy)
  • Wow, that was really a hard test, wasn't it?
This use will be very frequent in comedies.


Rising intonation >> if it's really a question and there is some doubt
Falling intonation >> if you're just confirming
Special intonation >> if you're being sarcastic

Famous example:

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
(Albert Einstein)

That was pretty easy, wasn't it?

So easy in fact, you should have no probably following the words to this classic song by Carly Simon.

"You're so vain" (you probably think this song is about you, don't you?)
Enjoy, English Users!

(TRIVIA: Listen to it a few times if you can. See if you can figure out who sings back up vocals. Answer in our next post.)

Monday, November 21, 2011


For many, turning 21, 30, 40, 50 or whatever represents something to celebrate. A birthday celebration. For others, it represents a major crisis.

Well, we're not sure, but since the Chinese say that crisis is opportunity, today we're going to take the opportunity to ask you questions about birthdays.

Some are fun, some are innocent, others you might consider inappropriate.

But whatever your answer, whatever your age, the most important thing is that you take these questions as an opportunity to review question-building in English.

And when you think of the answers, try to make them complete and meaningful. 

In fact, you could use this as a template to ask questions on a number of subjects.

  • How are birthdays celebrated in your country?
  • What are some birthday traditions you know of from other countries?
  • How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
  • What is your best birthday memory?
  • What is your worst birthday memory?
  • Have you ever had a surprise birthday party for yourself or someone else?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What are some things you like to do for your birthday?
  • When is your birthday?
  • Did your parents give you birthday parties when you were a child?
  • In your opinion, What is the best time of year to have a birthday?
  • How do people you know celebrate turning 40?
  • Do you think getting older (40, 50, 60) is depressing for people, or a happy occasion?
  • What do you think is the best age?
  • Do you like going to work on your birthday?
  • Did you like going to school on your birthday when you were a child?
  • Have you ever had a surprise party?
  • Whose birthday do you always remember?
  • Among your close friends and relatives, whose birthday is coming up next?
  • About how many birthday gifts or cards do you send or give to people each year?
  • Have you ever forgotten someone's birthday that you should have remembered?
  • Do you know any famous people's birthdays? (Are any the same as yours?)
  • Do you know of any big events that happened the year you were born?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the best birthday gift you have ever given?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever received?
  • What is the worst birthday gift you have ever given?
  • If you are in your teen years, tell how old you will be in twenty years time and say whether you look forward to that age or does it scare you.
  • If you could celebrate your own birthday the way you wanted, what would you do?
    • Where would you like to go?
    • How many people would you invite?
  • Would you rather celebrate your birthday with just your relatives or just your friends?
  • Do you remember what gifts you received on your last birthday?
  • What would you like to get most for your birthday this year?
  • Is the cost of a present important to you?
  • What kind of gift do you usually prepare for your friend's birthday?
    • Your mother's?
    • What about for other family members?
  • Which is a better present, a well-chosen gift or money?
  • Are birthdays really important?
  • How do you celebrate your birthday?
So speaking of birthdays, here's wonderful short animated film called "Bob's Birthday" about a man who discovers that turning 40 might be a great opportunity for some changes. Enjoy!