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.


By B1 level learners can competently use yes/no and wh- question forms with a wide range of subjects.

B1 50x33   Does your brother go with your parents? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

B1 50x33   How does he know my name? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish – Latin American)

B1 50x33   Which programmes do we like to watch? (Skills for Life: Entry 3; Farsi)

They can form negative tag questions using don’t you think or don’t you agree in order to seek agreement or an opinion.

B1 50x33   It’s a bit strange, don’t you think? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish – Latin American)

B1 50x33   The surprise will be even bigger if I wait. Don’t you think so? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

B1 50x33   I think it’s the best way, don’t you agree? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Portuguese)

Learners at this level can use the present simple with an increasing range of mental process verbs, including remember, understand and believe.

B1 50x33   I’m reading an adventure book. I don’t remember the title but it’s very boring! (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)

B1 50x33   Well, I totally understand that you want to go somewhere with your friends. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

They can also use the present simple with a limited range of reporting verbs, including say and show.

B1 50x33   For example, I know a person that moved to my city two years ago, and he says that it improved his social life. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)

B1 50x33   The movie shows how a pretty woman with all the problems you can imagine can do different things to make people feel better. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish - Latin American)

B1 level learners are also able to use the present simple with a limited range of speech act verbs, including suggest, apologise and recommend.

B1 50x33   I suggest that if you travel, you should pay for your trip. (BEC1; Spanish – Latin American)

B1 50x33   I apologise for missing your class. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; French)

B1 50x33   For these reasons, I definitely recommend staying in a city. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)

Once the B2 level is achieved, learners can use the present simple with a wider range of speech act verbs, including agree, disagree, accept and advise.

B2 50x33   We disagree with the new numbering system as it is too complicated. (Cambridge English: Business Vantage; Swiss German)

B2 50x33   I’d love to go to the concert with you so I accept your invitation. (Cambridge English: First; Greek)

B2 50x33   I advise you to take a coat because it’s winter, you know, it’s a bit cold. (Cambridge English: First; Portuguese)

B2 level learners are able to use the inverted form of the past simple with auxiliary do, in the phrase not only … but also.

B2 50x33   Not only do they save you filing time, but also they save office space. (Cambridge English: First; Chinese)

B2 50x33   Not only does it look nice but it’s also full of places that we should visit, such as the enormous old castle or the extremely fascinating butterfly farm!! (Cambridge English: First; Italian)

Learners at the B2 level can use the present simple to summarise events or a plot in a story or piece of history, often to give immediate dramatic interest.

B2 50x33   The plot of the book takes place in Vienna after the Second World War. (Cambridge English: First; German)

B2 50x33   The scene takes place on a train. On this train, a man is sleeping. He dreams. He dreams of one of his work colleagues who lost his job last year. (Cambridge English: First; French)

Between the B1 and B2 levels, learners improve in their uses of the present simple at both syntactic and lexical levels. B1 level learners develop their abilities to accurately form yes/no questions as well as negative tag questions, and once the B2 level is achieved learners show skill in using the phrase not only … but also with the auxiliary do. Learners develop the range of verb choices available to them between the B1 and B2 levels to include more mental process verbs, reporting verbs and speech act verbs. The range of reporting verbs used is also a key point of learner progress at the C1 level.

Cambridge University Press