German has sentence tags, hasn’t it? – Tags in German Posted by Sten on Oct 15, 2021 in Grammar, Language, Vocabulary
English is a bit (in)famous for its use of sentence tags, those little endings of sentences to indicate that you are looking for agreement or confirmation. It’s nice, isn’t it? German, like many other languages, doesn’t have such tags. But we do ask for confirmation like this, too, of course! So, how does German do it?
German Sentence Tags: Das ist doch gar nicht so schwer, oder?
While the English tag is related to whatever came in the sentence before it, it’s a whole thing that language learners struggle with. For example:
You won the prize, didn’t you?
You’ve seen that movie, haven’t you?
It is raining today, isn’t it?
You’re taking the trip, aren’t you?
You’ll be there, won’t you?
You haven’t done it yet, have you?
They can be quite versatile and have different uses, as is described well in this post by Collins Dictionary. So let’s see how we would do what sentence tags do in English in the German language!
Tone: Falling or rising tone matters!
Now, the Collins Dictionary post points out that tone matters, as is clear from their example:
Falling tone: statement
She’s gone out, hasn’t she?
Rising tone: question
She’s gone out, hasn’t she?
So like I said, we don’t really do tags in German, so to translate this, we have to use other tools. The falling tone statement could be rephrased as “So, she’s gone out” with a matching tone. And that has a matching translation in German:
Also, sie ist rausgegangen.
The rising tone is actively asking for a response – and that is the classic tag. In German, we do that like this:
Sie ist rausgegangen, oder?
(literally: She’s gone out, or?)
Oder is definitely the most common tag in German, and, like in English, it is a shorthand. Oder asks for an alternative – just like the tag. This is a question, or is it not a question? Oder does the same thing, but we just stuck with oder, just like English stuck with isn’t it. Sometimes, people also say oder nicht (or not)? at the end of a sentence, but that’s optional, unlike with the English tag.
If we used the full sentence, without a shorthand, it would look like this: dies ist eine Frage, oder ist das nicht so? (this is a question, or is that not the case?).
By the way, we do this rising tone in German, which you can hear in the audio file further below.
As I described in a previous post, this super common way of asking confirmation is what some Germans translate literally to English! Funny, or?
Other German Sentence Tags
However, I’d be lying if I said that oder? is the only tag alternative Germans use. Here’s a few:
Sie ist rausgegangen, ne?
(She’s gone out, no? (free translation, “ne” doesn’t mean anything))
Du kommst rüber, richtig?
(You’re coming over, right? (yep, that’s a literal translation!))
Das kannst du machen, nicht?
(You can do that, no? (often, the nicht is pronounced more like nich))
Ach, Fragen hast du noch, was?
(Ah, so questions you still have, huh? (was means “what”, and this one is a bit more confrontational, not as friendly))
That’s pretty much all. “Oder” and “ne” are definitely the most common in my neck of the woods (north-west Germany). If you know or have heard any others, please let me know in the comments below!
If you’re wondering about a negative tag in German, you can basically use the same “tags” as described above. Nothing changes! So:
Du kommst nicht rüber, richtig?
Sie ist nicht rausgegangen, oder?
Ach, Fragen hast du nicht mehr, was?
Obviously, having the “tag” nicht when you have a negation feels a bit weird, and we don’t do that in German. So DO NOT do this:
Du kommst nicht mehr rüber, nicht?
Though I’m sure some Germans say that, too.
Should you use sentence tags in German?
German doesn’t really utilize tags like the English do. It doesn’t show up every other sentence, and a response is definitely expected. Often, the subtle meaning tags can add to sentences are mixed into the sentence in German. This function is fulfilled by words like doch, also, so, aber, ach, ja, einfach. Here’s an example of that:
“You can simply buy a car, can’t you?”
Du kannst doch einfach ein Auto kaufen.
(literally: But you can simply buy a car).
In German, these questions at the end are quite informal. In a formal setting, you might hear them somewhat less. The most formal one, in my mind, is richtig? as it is a fully and properly pronounced word, and less informal than oder? It’s a bit like saying “correct?” at the end of an English sentence!
In general, Germans dont
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