Author: British Council | Published on 1 February 2023


Intonation is an important part of communication. Changing intonation in question tags creates different meanings. 

Present examples

Write these sentences on the board and underline as shown. Say the sentences with falling intonation on the first sentence and rising intonation on the second sentence. Ask. ‘What do you notice about the underlined parts of the sentences?’

 Chocolate is bad for you, isn’t it?

He is at school, isn’t he?

[play audio]       

Chocolate is bad for you, isn’t it?

He is at school, isn’t he?

To help learners: make sure the intonation is clear. If necessary, exaggerate it when you are teaching question tags to make sure learners can hear the difference.

 Take feedback

Ask learners to share their feedback on what they noticed in the examples. Some key points you might want to share with them include:

  • The intonation on the question tag rises (goes up) if it is a real question. This shows that the speaker is unsure of the answer and is looking for more information.
  • The intonation on the question tag falls (goes down) if it is not a ‘real’ question. The speaker is already sure of the answer. They may be showing interest or asking for agreement.


Feedback: Information about how or how well a learner has done something. 

Intonation: The way the pitch of a speaker's voice goes up or down as they speak. Intonation can be rising, falling or flat and is used to communicate how a speaker feels.