The correct way to say “is it?”

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In this week’s post, we’re going to talk about the correct way to use “is it” and “isn’t it”.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may know that I’m also a translator for Malay and English shows.

The other day, I was translating a Malay show into English. I realised that in the Malay language, we frequently end questions with “kan”.

In Malay conversations, “kan” can be used in almost any situation. For example:

“Mesti kakak mimpi tentang lelaki yang jahat tu, kan?”
“Saya comel, kan?”
“Makanan ni sedap, kan?”

So when Malaysians speak English, we tend to use the words “is it” or “isn’t it” to replace “kan” at the end of questions.

These are called question tags. For example:

This is delicious, isn’t it?
The parcel isn’t arriving today,
 is it?

However, they should not be used all the time!

Now I don’t want to overwhelm you with grammar rules, but you can remember this:

1. Do not use them when you’re referring to humans.

You’re not coming to the meeting, is it? — wrong
You’re not coming to the meeting, 
are you? — correct

She has just arrived, is it? — wrong
She has just arrived,
 hasn’t she? – correct

The team worked well together, isn’t it? — wrong
The team worked well together, 
didn’t they? — correct

2. Only use them when you’re referring to one thing.

That cat is cute, isn’t it? — correct
This pen isn’t working, 
is it? — correct

3. Do not use them when there is more than one thing.

These pens aren’t working, is it? — wrong
These pens aren’t working, 
are they? — correct

So I hope this lesson helps you to see when you can use these question tags.

Although it’s fine to use them all the time when speaking among Malaysians, you should try to use the correct question tag when you want to come across professional in your writing.

We’ll talk to you again soon!

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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