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 C1 level, learners are starting to use the future perfect simple to make assumptions about the present. There is also some evidence for the expert speaker politeness strategy referred to in the B level grammar gem (using the future perfect to 'assume that something is the case'). See the second example below taken from a formal letter:

C1 50x33   As you will have heard, this year's work experience programme in Britain was in general a success. (Certificate in Advanced English; Greek)

C1 50x33   I hope I will have reassured you. (Certificate in Advanced English; French)

However, the researchers note examples such as these are few and far between in the learner data. Course book writers preparing new material at an advanced level may wish to focus more overtly on uses of the future perfect simple like these, which are very common in native/expert speaker language.

Our data shows that C1 learners are also using might or may to talk about future expectations:

C1 50x33   As far as I'm concerned, we should definitely do some additional publicity, particularly for the new offerings which might be coming up. (Certificate in Advanced English; Dutch)

There is evidence of C1 learners using a greater range of adverbs when talking about the future, as well. This is especially true in Business English writing, as the second and third examples below show:

C1 50x33   If you have ever read a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen you will surely have discovered why this man is so famous worldwide. (Certificate in Advanced English; Danish)

C1 50x33   However, sales will possibly have fallen to 5000 units again by the end of the year. (BEC Higher; German)

C1 50x33   As the new store is going to be the first and only one in Moscow, and, to make matters worse, it is going to be located close to our most successful outlet, it is undoubtedly going to have a detrimental effect on our company. (BEC Higher; Polish)

The C2 level is referred to in the CEFR as ‘Mastery’ and it is interesting to see that learners are still expanding their knowledge of future forms. Additional uses found in our data at C2 include:

  • The future perfect continuous to make assumptions about the present (still with very low frequency in comparison to first language use) 

C2 50x33   I do not think that this aspect is really necessary because it is supposed that you will have been studying very hard to occupy that job. (Certificate of Proficiency in English; Spanish)

  • The present simple with only when, followed by will and an inverted subject, to refer to the future

C2 50x33   Moreover, I think that only when people manage this will they be able to move on with their lives and offer something new to humanity. (Certificate of Proficiency in English; Greek)

C2 50x33   And, sadly, I also believe that only when something really catastrophic happens will citizens face reality and accept that measures must be taken. (Certificate of Proficiency in English; Portuguese)

  • The use of shall to talk about long-term intentions

C2 50x33   I must believe, believe in myself and in everybody else, and mainly in what I look for, this way I shall never lose hope. (Certificate of Proficiency in English; Spanish)

C2 50x33   I shall always remember it as the city of lights. (Certificate of Proficiency in English; French)

What does all this evidence tell us about the teaching of future forms? It is clear that learners are gradually broadening their repertoire and sophistication of use as they move up the CEFR levels. The research underpinning the development of the English Grammar Profile indicates strongly that, as teachers, we should never assume that once a structure has been taught at one level, there is no need for it to be revisited at higher ones. Quite apart from the necessary revision and recycling of existing grammatical knowledge, it is important for learners to be aware of the many additional ways they can draw on to express themselves clearly and naturally. A cyclical approach to the teaching of grammar will ensure that learners are adequately equipped with the depth of knowledge needed at a particular level. To this end, the researchers are describing in great detail what learners are actually capable of at each CEFR level, and these findings will inform a whole new generation of materials from Cambridge University Press.

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