"Didn't he" or "weren't you"?

Which tag is the better in this please?
Your father told me you were going to work abroad,…?
I think it should be “weren’t you” because that is what the speaker did need to know.

Though, generally, what you suggest is better and acceptable, I think we cannot rule out ‘didn’t he?’ which is also possible depending on the speaker’s stress on what he needs to know.

Suppose it is ‘People say/It is said/I understand/I’m told that you are going to work abroad’, the tag should be ‘aren’t you?’.

I feel I have to disagree.
Logically, I can’t see why ‘weren’t you’ should be used in both examples.
Your father told me you were going to work abroad, didn’t he? = It was your father who told me… (If I was interested in who told me.)

Your father told me you were going to work abroad. Were you (really)? = It was you who were going to work abroad? (If I was interested in who were going to work.)
Similarly: I was told that you are going to work abroad’. Are you?

In short, tagging it with ‘weren’t you’ seems to me not-so-justifiable, both logically and grammatically.

At the outset you don’t seem to disagree, if I have comprehended your explanation correctly. As far as I can see, your contention does not support the ‘Rule of the Opposite’.

My point was the only possible tag, logically, in the original sentence is ‘didn’t he?’
To use ‘weren’t you?’, it should’ve been: You were going to work abroad, weren’t you? Your father told me that.
Simple and unpretentious…

The tag depends on the reference.
weren’t you - the person who was supposed to have been going abroad.
didn’t he - the father

That’s it.

So everybody consider “Your father told me you were going to work abroad, weren’t you?” good English?..

This is a win-win situation, Eugene.

***** NOT A TEACHER *****

Saberlily:

You have already received excellent answers. I will keep my opinion to myself. Your question interested me so much that I have done some research. I have found some information that really helped me. May I share it with you?


  1. “I expect that the match will be postponed, won’t it?”
  2. “I don’t think that Ruth should fail, should she?”

The scholar says those sentences are correct because:

(a) The speaker is the subject of the main clause.
(b) The speaker presents his/her own assessment of the content of the following clause.


  1. “They expect that the match will be postponed, won’t it?”
  2. “Graham doesn’t think that Ruth should fail, should she?”

The scholar says that these two sentences are wrong because – as you can see – they do not meet the requirements of (a) and (b).


  1. “You expect that the match will be postponed, don’t you?”
  2. They don’t think that Ruth should fail, do they?"

The scholar says that #5 and #6 are fine because they show the tag question is used as a self-examination of the subject’s own belief, expectation, thought, etc.


This is only a brief introduction to the scholar’s wonderful article. I am too stupid to link to it, so if you want to read the whole article, do this:

Go to the Google search engine.
Click on the “books” section.
Type in these words: Tag questions and subordinate clauses.
The 5th result on the page should be Syntax in Functional Grammar (2000) by Professor G. David Morley.

Hi James,
I am well aware of those rules you cited above. However, what is always making me crazy is that sometimes rules don’t seem to work well to serve the content. Moreover, all the examples you gave had verbs of perception and such, which make the “fine tags” sound fine. Also, an object after the main verb really matters much. If the sentence “Your father said to me that you were going to work abroad, didn’t he?” is the only correct one, according to rules, that will make “Did your father say to me that you were going to work abroad?” the correct written one. And I don’t think it is what we would like to know.
By the way, can anyone suggest any learner’s grammar that can cover all those silly “grammatical” rules? All the questions are for intermediate learners but I can’t even find one speck of evidence about the rules’ existence in any “teacher’s” grammars, not to mention learner’s.

Anyway, my great thanks for all of your ideas.

And the context as well.

I find it difficult to agree. A tag question is much different from a direct question.

Now, look at these.

He tells me he can win the match, can’t he? (or even can he? as Eugene has pointed out above, but never doesn’t he?)

He thinks he can win the match, do you? or don’t you? (This also is possible if I want the confirmation from you)

I heard that you were married, weren’t you? (Here, I don’t think we can use didn’t I?, can we?)

It, therefore, follows that tags are contextual in most cases though we may confine ourselves to the simple, general ones (with the Rule of the Opposite etc) when we have to coach the students of elementary level.

I would say it was perfectly possible to use ‘didn’t I?’ there. Although it might appear strange - as of the speaker doesn’t know what he heard - it is a round-about way of seeking confirmation.
In fact, I imagine that ‘didm’t I?’ in that situation is used more than ‘weren’t you?’

Yes, though not normal.

Now suppose it is ‘I hear that you are married’ then the tag needs to be aren’t/are you? (Can it be don’t I? as you say?)

If the speaker is seeking affirmation in that same round-about way, I’d say it can.

Even if it is conditional, it’s quite unnatural in my view.

That may be because you have learned the language using grammatical rules rather than acquired it by nature.

What comes by ‘nature’ need not always be correct though possible. Further, foreign learners cannot be expected to accept (as standard) all that the native/‘natural’ speaker may utter. For instance, in every language (including ours) there are dialects, but there is always a standard form generally recognized and used. So should it also be in English as I see it.

Is that what you view to be correct?

Yes, as far as the term ‘standard’ is concerned.
(I hope you won’t feign incomprehensibility in what I say)