Question tag (No.2)

Freeguy,

The answer is (2).  You are asking (perhaps rhetorically) for confirmation about what your mother believes.  You are not saying anything about whether or not you share her belief, so you wouldn't ask for confirmation for the subordinate clause ("everyone should learn English").  You can't ask for confirmation for an opinion you haven't expressed.

However, your statement may be based on your having heard your mother say:

1a: Everyone should learn English, shouldn't they?

DocV

Freeguy posted:

My mother believes everyone should learn English, .....?

1) shouldn't they

2) doesn't she?

Hi, Freeguy,

I agree with DocV's answer. If your student wants to use a tag question at the end of that sentence, it needs to be "doesn't she?"

The sentence "My mother believes everyone should learn English" can be followed with "Shouldn't they?," but only if the question is a separate sentence.

3) My mother believes everyone should learn English. Shouldn't they?

In (3), "Shouldn't they?" is elliptical for "Shouldn't they (i.e. everyone) learn English?" The question asks whether the belief of the speaker's mother is true.

David,
You say:
The sentence "My mother believes everyone should learn English" can be followed with "Shouldn't they?," but only if the question is a separate sentence.
This is an excellent point, and I'm glad you brought it up.  You continue:
In (3), "Shouldn't they?" is elliptical for "Shouldn't they (i.e. everyone) learn English?" The question asks whether the belief of the speaker's mother is true.

I agree.  I would add that the question asks whether the belief of the speaker's mother is true, with the expectation that it is.  More neutrally, one might say:

4: My mother believes everyone should learn English.  Should they?

This doesn't lend itself to separating out the dependent clause and adding a tag question as I did in (1a):
4a: Everyone should learn English, should they?
We normally use a negative question tag with a positive statement (like in (2) and (1a)) or a positive question tag with a negative statement.  The question tag is asking for confirmation of the statement.  A positive tag with a positive statement, like (4a), is less common, and serves an entirely different purpose. Here, the speaker is actually calling the statement into question in a confrontational way.  He is essentially saying:
4a': Oh, you think so, do you?

DocV

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