Usage of 'right?' to replace 'isn't it?' or 'don't they?'


In tag question, we can use ‘right?’ to replace ‘isn’t it?’ or ‘don’t they?’, or the like (without changing the idea), can’t we?
And what I wonder is if the use of ‘right?’ instead of other normal ways of tag questions make it sound more informal and sometimes not very polite.

Many thanks,

Hi Nessie

Tag questions can be used for a variety of reasons. One of the most common uses of a tag question is to elicit confirmation of or agreement with what has just been said. For that sort of tag, you can use “right” instead. Replacing a negative tag with “right” might be a bit more common than replacing a positive tag with “right”.

I would say that “right” would tend to sound more informal, but not necessarily impolite.

Hi Amy,

Could you tell me some other usages of tag question for which we can’t use ‘right’?

Many thanks,

Hi Nessie

Here are some example sentences with tags which cannot be replaced by the word “right”:

  • Open the window, will you? (request)
  • Watch what you’re doing, will you! (irritation)
  • Oh, so you think I’m wrong, do you? (confrontational)
  • A: I hate your cooking. B: Oh, you do, do you? Then you can just cook for yourself!

I think you’ll find that the version with “right” is heard in BrEng.

Again, I see no problem in using “right” there. I’ve heard it often enough.

e.g. from hazy memory:

Patient to glum faced doctor who is looking at a set of X-rays: Er, there’s nothing wrong, right, doctor?

Mother confronted at her door by a policeman who is asking for her daughter: She’s done something wrong, right?

Hello Nessie,

In BrE, the tag “right?” tends to be favoured by the slightly less sophisticated user. If the speaker is asking you to settle a genuine doubt, it isn’t necessarily impolite; but elsewhere, it can sound a little “cocky”.

(The “impoliteness” probably resides in the implication that the addressee will agree with the speaker.)

Best wishes,


I guess there must be a lot of slightly less sophisticated users in Britain, because I’ve heard that tag used all over Britain, and at all levels of society.

But isn’t there also that problem with many other tags and doesn’t it often depend on the idea that is being expressed?

[i]There are too many blacks around here, aren’t there/don’t you think/right?

The weather’s lovely today, isn’t it/don’t you think/right?[/i]

I don’t think I’d accuse the latter speaker of impoliteness just because he wanted me to agree with him. Would you?

Imagine that! I could swear you said you were a Nigerian woman living in Spain and also a non-native speaker of English. Personally, I don’t believe a word you’ve said here. Sorry, but I’d prefer to wait for information from a native speaker of British English.

  1. There are too many blacks round here, right?

— a distinctly aggressive statement. The speaker probably has his nose and halitosis thrust in my face.

  1. There are too many blacks round here, aren’t there?

— a distinctly languid statement. The speaker is probably reclining in his corner of the taxi I was unwise enough to share.

  1. The weather’s lovely today, right?

— a distinctly unidiomatic statement. The speaker has combined a phrase from his ESL textbook with a “hazy memory” of M’s unsound advice in the ET “tags” thread.


MrP unwilling to back up his rather poorly thought out statement here:

Two friends, on the way to a Sunday league football match:

Dim: We’re going to trash 'em today, right?

Sum: I find your statement and question rather impolite. Why do you assume I will agree with you?
It’s not the “, right?” that is “wrong”, but some of the contexts it’s found in. “Context” there includes the relationship between the speakers.

As a, self-appointed, more sophisticated user, MrP wants to tell us that he doesn’t like people using the question tag “right” around him. :wink:

Just look at how many less unsophisticated Brits there are:


The search [color=blue], right ? = 524 per 1 million words.
The search [color=blue], does n’t [pn*] ? = 310 per 1 million words.
The search [color=blue] , did n’t [pn*] ? = 661 per 1 million words
The search [color=blue] , was n’t [pn*] ? = 395 per 1 million words
The search [color=blue] , do n’t you ? = 581 per 1 million words

Mind, tops is [color=blue], IS N’T IT ? with a score of 1306 per 1 million words. Now, if MrP is right on “right”, I’m sure that we cannot find many examples where, when using “isn’t it?”, ‘The “impoliteness” probably resides in the implication that the addressee will agree with the speaker.’, right?

So what is MrP telling us? He seems to be telling us that one of the functions of the tag “right?” is to ask “Am I right?”, i.e. to allow the speaker to ask the listener to agree with him/her. Is that news to anyone? Many questions tags have the same function, especially when used with falling intonation.

Great, hope you find one. I live with one, have a mother-in-law who is one, work with many who are so, and have lived and studied in Britain. I guess my info has some credibility, right?

To tell a student that “right?” does not have an impolite air in BrE is slightly misleading.

In an interview, for instance, or some other situation where politeness was important, even the people who otherwise use the tag would probably avoid it.

It’s possible though that you’ve confused the terminal “(am I) right?” tag with the “right” which occurs in the middle of an utterance, and asks for reassurance that the speaker is on the right track.


I agree, but the telling them the opposite can also be misleading. Unqualified advice is often incorrect advice. One should instead look at real examples in use. There are many situations where that tag is not used or read impolitely.

No confusion at all. See my BNC post above, and take note that I said this “Many questions tags have the same function, especially when used with falling intonation.”

It is possible that you’ve taken the prescritivists’ folk-view on politeness here. That view is often expressed in blanket-covering terms about language use and manners.

Then all is well.

To return to your “friends” example:

Certainly the right to take umbrage may be waived, in certain kinds of relationship; sometimes it is impolite to be polite.

But that waiver represents a suspension of the norm: when you eventually fall out with your friend, your chirpy “right” will begin to seem disagreeably “cocky”, “provocative”, “peremptory”, etc.


Well, I guess you’re convinced that “right”, as a tag, 'is almost always disagreeably “cocky”, “provocative”, “peremptory”, etc?. So, I’ll leave you to your prescriptive dreams on that one.

BTW, would you say that “, surely?” 'is almost always disagreeably “cocky”, “provocative”, “peremptory”, etc?.


But you can’t want to live there, surely?
We should tell the Palace, surely?
You can wait until then, surely?

Hey, all, which of the four principle kinds of question tags listed here would “, right?” fall under?

I think it would be better if you began a new thread on the questions of “surely” and your four kinds of tag.

On the question of “right”, we have reached at least partial agreement:


Only partial. I see, so you don’t agree with this bit then: “but the telling them the opposite can also be misleading”, right?

  1. “Right?” does not have an impolite air in BrE.

— misleading.

  1. “Right?” does not have a polite air in BrE.

— reasonable.