Grammar Spotlight

GrammarThe English Grammar Profile (EGP) is a sister resource to the English Vocabulary Profile, and has been put together by Anne O'Keeffe (Limerick University) and Geraldine Mark, the co-authors, along with Ron Carter and Mike McCarthy, of English Grammar Today (Cambridge University Press). Mark and O'Keeffe investigated the extensive data in the Cambridge Learner Corpus to establish when learners begin to get to grips with different linguistic structures. 

A series of insights from their research will be posted on this page, each one putting the spotlight on an interesting aspect of learner grammar development. Please note that all of the learner examples come from the Cambridge Learner Corpus, a 55-million word electronic collection of written learner data. The examination and the candidate’s first language are given in brackets after each learner example.

See the latest Grammar Spotlight entry below. Scroll right down to the bottom of this page to browse through previous entries.


Once the B2 level is achieved, learners are able to form complex noun phrases by using adjective phrases as postmodifiers to give more information about the noun.

B2 50x33   Besides, we could leave one day in the morning and go by boat to a small and exotic island full of different and exotic species of birds that we could observe and photograph. (Cambridge English: First; Portuguese)

B2 50x33   Emily Brönte succeeded in writing a romantic, psychological and tragic story, beautifully set in these mysterious moors. (Cambridge English: First; Dutch)

They also can form an increasing range of complex noun phrases with more than one adjective combined with but.

B2 50x33   I am very lucky, because I was born in a small but beautiful city called Neuva Helvecia. (CELSV; Spanish - Latin American)

B2 50x33   As a result, in order to find out which is the most important, you need to ask yourself a simple but tricky question that no man would like to be asked. (Cambridge English: First; Greek)

B2 50x33   I will be on business in London to sign a contract with a new but significant customer at that time. (Cambridge English: Business Vantage; Chinese)

Finally, B2 learners can form noun phrases with plural nouns + ’ + noun.

B2 50x33   He had promised that he would go to his grandparents’ house this afternoon. (Cambridge English: First; Greek)

B2 50x33   Our company is a digital company with 15 years’ experience. (Cambridge English: Business Vantage; Chinese)

B2 50x33   It is essential to introduce special offers to get customers’ attention. (Cambridge English: Business Vantage; Telugu)

At C1 learners form complex noun phrases using a noun phrase + of + noun phrase + possessive determiner ’s, omitting the noun where it is previously mentioned. This builds on the skills developed at the B1 levels when learners were able to use this structure to refer to a place which is mutually understood (I went to the doctor’s).

C1 50x33   Our after-sales team now is perceived as faster, more qualified, friendlier and more efficient than our competitors’. (Cambridge English: Business Higher; Chinese)

C1 50x33   You cannot have peace and quiet in your own home, as your hour of peacefulness might considerably differ from your neighbours’. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Greek)

C1 50x33   I think it would be better to include a student’s view of the college, not only a teacher’s. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Romanian)

At the C1 level learners are also able to use complex noun phrases with wh-cleft clauses followed by be in order to give focus.

C1 50x33   What everyone loved were the special effects and we were very impressed by the use of advanced technological innovations. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Greek)

C1 50x33   What companies care about is money and football players help them to earn it. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Catalan)

C1 50x33   What students learn are mostly facts and theories. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Korean)

As to be expected of learners at the C1 level, an improvement is seen in learners’ ability to write with context in mind. C1 learners can use nominalised forms in academic or business contexts to make something more formal.

C1 50x33   As indicated by the charts, the output in state-owned industry increased by 12% in 2000. (Cambridge English: Business Higher; Polish)

C1 50x33   With reference to foreign-invested industry, it recorded fluctuations in industrial output increases throughout three years. (Cambridge English: Business Higher; Polish)

C1 50x33   We could say that things have been altered by the advances of science and culture in general, like the rest of the world. (Cambridge English: Advanced; Portuguese)

The only significant development seen at the C2 level is the ability of learners to form complex noun phrases with little or no + noun.

C2 50x33   The careers of these people started at a very young age with little or no money. (Cambridge English: Proficiency; Greek)

C2 50x33   As the highway is merely 300 metres from the centre, transportation of products is carried out with little or no problem. (Cambridge English: Proficiency; Swedish)

C2 50x33   Harvey Keitel has always chosen the scripts that interested him as a person and as an actor, whilst refusing to invest his talent in big-time Hollywood blockbusters with little or no artistic value. (Cambridge English: Proficiency; Italian)

So, between the B2 and C2 levels, learners develop their abilities to form more complex noun phrases. New structures include noun + adjective phrase, adjective + but + adjective + noun, wh-+ …+ be and little or no + noun. Of course, knowing little or no + noun should be taken as a signal of true mastery of noun phrases. As to be expected, newly learned structures take time to develop and many appear in a much lower frequency in learner work than what is found in the writing of native speakers.

Cambridge University Press