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 B1 level, there is a great leap in learner ability to use this voice. In addition to the A2 uses, they are able to use a wider variety of verbs with a greater variety of passive forms.

B1 learners have the ability to use the present simple affirmative and negative with a range of pronoun and noun subjects. Note that the second and third examples shown below are from Business English exams, as are several of the other examples illustrated in the English Grammar Profile at this level. This reflects the more frequent use of the passive in Business writing, due to its more formal nature and the nature of the exam tasks set.

B1 50x33   The walls are painted in a dark blue, and the floor is wood. (Cambridge English: Preliminary, Dutch)

B1 50x33   Our office is situated near the airport. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Spanish - Latin American)

B1 50x33   I think we should replace the printer, because it prints very slowly and the sheets aren’t  printed properly. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Swiss German)

B1 learners can use the past simple passive affirmative with a range of pronoun and noun subjects, both singular and plural. Although they use the affirmative form competently, there is no evidence at present of any significant use of the past simple passive negative.

B1 50x33   It was written in a strange language that I tried to translate. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish - Latin American)

B1 50x33   Next day, I heard that my neighbour’s car was stolen. (Skills for Life entry level 3; Polish)

B1 50x33   They filmed the flowers and trees, and some pupils were interviewed about their work in  the garden, too. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

Learners at this level can also use the past simple passive affirmative with a limited range of verbs needing two objects, putting the indirect object in subject position.

B1 50x33   So I was given a ticket for a train, running from Berlin to Munich. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

B1 50x33   We were lucky, because we were given another chance. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Serbian)

The CLC also reveals that at B1 level, learners are able to use the passive with by in more sophisticated ways. They can, for example, use it to give focus.

B1 50x33   My school was chosen by the TV company because it is one of the newest in town.  (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Italian)

They can use the passive with by in a relative clause, often to add more information.

B1 50x33   I also like wearing clothes which are manufactured by famous brands. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Tamil)

B1 50x33   It’s the highest mountain in U.A.E. Special roads were built for people to reach the top of  the mountain, which was surrounded by houses. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Arabic - Gulf)

In addition, B1 learners are able to use the passive infinitive after a limited number of expressions including going to, have to, need to and want to.

B1 50x33   It is going to be shown this Friday. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Turkish)

B1 50x33   After that, they printed an authorisation form, which had to be signed by my parents because  I’m not over eighteen. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Spanish - European)

B1 50x33   He wants to be informed about sales development by the end of November 2001. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary;  Swiss German)

They can accurately use the present continuous passive affirmative, although with a limited range of verbs.

B1 50x33   Did you know that the next Harry Potter movie is being filmed in my school? (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Catalan)

B1 50x33   Why don’t we stay at my house and visit Tokyo, where an interesting Japanese history exhibition is being held. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; Japanese)

B1 50x33   They filmed a class where the clothes are being tested at the moment and they interviewed  some people. (Cambridge English: Preliminary; German)

At B1 level, learners can now use the present continuous passive affirmative to refer to the future.

B1 50x33   The seminar is being held at Chennai in the next week. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary; Marathi)

B1 50x33   We are being visited by our Sales Director on Thursday morning. (Cambridge English: Business Preliminary;  Portuguese - Brazil)

At present, however, there are no examples of the present continuous passive negative at B1 level. Although negative forms are taught at this level, they don’t seem to be produced until the B2 level. Similarly there is very little evidence that B1 learners are using passives with modal verbs, although again this is taught at this level. This might be an 'opportunity of use' issue, i.e. perhaps the students did not get the chance to use these structures in their exams because none of the exam tasks required them. An alternative interpretation could be that they find ways to avoid using these structures until B2, when they become more confident with passives. 

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