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How can I use "negative tag questions" correctly?

Question: Hello Teacher Joe! I really want to thank you for giving students the opportunity to communicate with you this way. My question is about grammar. Sometimes my foreign friends ask me a kind of "tag question" such as "You like Sichuan food, don't you?". I never know the right way to answer. Can you tell me the right way, and also help me remember how I should answer this type of question? Thanks! ~ Amanda, Beijing

Answer: You are quite welcome, Amanda! I hope I can be of help to you and to students all over China. Your question is a common one in China. The problem is that English and Chinese use different ways of thinking when responding to negative questions. You have to remember that in English, you should focus ONLY on the answer, not on the question. So, even though a question asks, "don't you", your answer will be either "Yes, I do" or "No, I don't". It doesn't matter to English speakers whether the question is "Do you like..." or "Don't you like". Either way, "Yes" always goes with "do" and "No" always goes with "don't".

The key to answering correctly is to break the habit of translating from Chinese, even subconsciously. To do this, you have to repeat the English patterns over and over again. Although students understand "Yes, I do" and "No, I don't", they have not yet made it a habit. When I teach, I always push my students to answer every question a with complete sentence. In ordinary conversation, we will often just answer with "yes" or "no", but if you want to learn, you should use complete sentences so that your answers become "second nature", which means your answers become automatic.

Good luck with this! It will take some time, but pay careful attention, and you will surely get it.

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