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.


At B2 level, learners show great confidence in their use of the passive. They employ a wider range of verbs in a greater number of contexts, both informal and formal. They are able to use more tenses and competently use passive structures after modals, as will be seen below.

B2 learners can use the passive with a wide range of verbs needing two objects, putting the indirect object in subject position.

B2 50x33   I was very happy to hear that you have been offered two jobs. (Cambridge English: First; Greek)

B2 50x33   She was offered a contract to record a single. (Cambridge English: First; Spanish - Latin American)

B2 50x33   Your firm has been given some extra money to spend on improvements to the cinema next year. (Cambridge English: First; Chinese)

They can use the passive with a range of tenses and verbs needing two objects, with the direct object in subject position and the indirect object in a prepositional phrase.

B2 50x33   Your name was given to me by a member of yours, Allan Westwood, whom I met last  week. (Cambridge English: First; Swedish)

B2 50x33   If more training is given to staff, they will be interested in their work and staff turnover will be reduced. (Cambridge English: Business Vantage; Tamil)

By the B2 level, there is evidence that learners can use the past simple passive negative. It should be noted, however, that negative forms are very low frequency.

B2 50x33   What is worse, the ticket price was not reduced despite the fact that I showed my student ID. (Cambridge English: First; Japanese)

B2 50x33   I had to go to the hospital because my back hurt so badly, and I wasn’t allowed to work for two weeks. (Certificate in ESOL Skills for life Level 1; Hungarian)

B2 50x33   I was really disappointed because a lot of things were not done. (Cambridge English: First; Turkish)

Some say that studying animals would be impossible, if they weren’t kept in zoos. (Cambridge English: First;  Italian)

B2 learners can use the present continuous passive affirmative with an increasing range of verbs, and they can now produce sentences in the present continuous passive negative.

B2 50x33    … students are not being educated equally. (Cambridge English: First; Mongolian)

B2 50x33   To conclude, in my opinion, it is important to keep as many languages as possible alive, so we can make sure that part of human history is not being lost. (IELTS; Portuguese)

Learners at this level can use the past continuous passive affirmative.

B2 50x33   However, to my disappointment, the restaurant was closed because it was being redecorated.  (Cambridge English: First; Chinese)

In addition to using the present continuous passive to refer to the future, B2 learners now use the future passive simple.

B2 50x33   Just to let you know, you will be booked into the Palace Hotel … (Cambridge English: First; Polish)

B2 50x33   First of all, I am very grateful to hear that the cinema will be renovated  next year. (Cambridge English: First; Korean)

Building on the B1 level use of the passive infinitive after need to, be going to, etc., B2 learners use both affirmative and negative forms after an increasing range of main verbs, modal verbs, adjectives and nouns, in impersonal constructions.

B2 50x33   According to your advertisement, some training is supposed to be given. (Cambridge English: First; Korean)

B2 50x33   My composition was ready to be printed and I was searching for a piece of paper … (Cambridge English: First;  German - Austria)

B2 50x33   I would prefer to sleep in a tent because I have never done it and I think it is an experience not to be missed, a very original adventure! (Cambridge English: First; French)

They produce sentences in the present perfect passive affirmative and negative forms, often in the context of reporting. 

B2 50x33   I have been asked to write a report about an accident which happened to me last Saturday.  (Certificate in ESOL Skills for life Level 1; Polish)

B2 50x33   I am writing to you to give you further information about the conference organization and  about the arrangements which have been made for your group of students. (Cambridge English: First; Italian)

B2 50x33   This happened two years ago, and the necklace hasn’t been found yet. (Cambridge English: First; Spanish -  European)

At B2, learners can also use the past perfect passive affirmative and negative forms.

B2 50x33   The car had been serviced and everything seemed to be all right. (Cambridge English: First; Portuguese)

At this moment, Lime walked in and realised he had been set up. (Cambridge English: First; Dutch)

B2 level learners can competently use the passive with modal verbs in a range of contexts and with a variety of subjects.

B2 50x33   Architects should be hired to design parks, where people could go for a walk or have a picnic. (Cambridge English: First; Polish)

B2 50x33   As a result, today, it could be said that nearly everyone is living in a digital world which means computers are necessary and very important. (Cambridge English: First; Chinese)

This includes the use of the present perfect simple affirmative and negative forms with modal verbs to refer to the past.

B2 50x33   I think that all these problems could have been avoided. (Cambridge English: First; Catalan)

B2 50x33   I don’t remember how I lost it, it might have been stolen. (Cambridge English: First; Japanese)

B2 50x33   Of course, some groups were better than others but I think they all played well and have talent: they should have been given a chance! (Cambridge English: First; Italian)

B2 50x33   It should not have been used in this kind of article. (Cambridge English: First; Korean)

In addition, B2 level learners can use the passive with modal verbs to evaluate or summarise.

B2 50x33   In conclusion, it can be seen that the bicycle is more suitable for those who are living in a little town or in the country. (Cambridge English: First; Italian)

B2 50x33   Next, I find that our streets are not very clean, another major problem, and I think something must be done about it. (Cambridge English: First; Spanish - European)

Learners at the B2 level can use a wide range of passive forms confidently and appropriately. They can correctly employ the passive in higher level functions, such as making predictions and suppositions, reflecting on the past, evaluating, and summarising. High-frequency expressions in the passive are evident in both formal and informal utterances, e.g. it can be seen, it could be said that, I have been asked, an experience not to be missed, it could have been avoided, etc.

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