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TKT Tip 08: Module 3 - Categorizing learners' mistakes

Type: Reference material

This month Jim looks at a question from Module 3 of TKT: Managing the teaching and learning process.

In this regular column we help you to improve your answers to questions in TKT - Teaching Knowledge Test set by University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. Each month we look closely at one question and find out why the correct answers are right. All of the example questions are taken from real TKT sample exams but have been shortened.

Try this question*:

Question excerpt

For questions 1 to 5, match the underlined mistakes with the types of error listed A-F. Mark the correct letter (A-F) on your answer sheet.

There is one extra option which you do not need to use.


1              Ghosts are usually saw at night.

2              I am very much like football.

3              Every festival are different in my country.

4              We must to protect the environment.

5              What time did you say you going out later?

Types of errors

A             unnecessary auxiliary verb

B             missing auxiliary verb

C             wrong verb form

D             wrong verb pattern

E             wrong phrasal verb

F             wrong subject-verb agreement


* Reproduced with the kind permission of University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations.

Question focus

This question tests your ability to recognize exactly what is incorrect when students make mistakes. It also tests your ability to categorize these errors using grammatical terminology.

What you need to know

First of all, you'll need to be able to identify what is wrong with each sentence. Although the question gives you some help by highlighting the general area that the mistake is in, you will still need to pinpoint the precise error yourself.  It's important to do this carefully as the mistakes may at first glance appear to be quite similar. In this example question all the errors are to do with verbs - so it's not good enough just to recognize that the verb is 'wrong'; we have to identify exactly what is wrong about it.

It will also help you if you can decide what the correction should be for each sentence. By comparing the wrong sentence and the corrected sentence, you can quickly decide exactly what is at the heart of the problem.

So, let's start by spotting the errors and correcting them:

1. Wrong: Ghosts are usually saw at night. Corrected: Ghosts are usually seen at night.

This is a passive sentence - i.e. it's not the ghosts that are doing the action. Compare the active and passive - Active: "I usually see ghosts at night." Passive: "Ghosts are usually seen at night." All passive forms are made using the past participle form. The past participle of the verb see is seen (not saw). So we can identify the mistake as a 'wrong verb form' - the past simple verb form has been incorrectly used instead of the past participle form.

2. Wrong: I am very much like football. Corrected: I very much like football.       

This is a normal Present Simple sentence. The word order is slightly unusual with very much coming after the pronoun rather than at the end of the sentence where it more normally appears. However, this word order is possible and isn't a mistake. The error is the addition of the auxiliary verb am which is completely unnecessary to the sentence structure.

3. Wrong: Every festival are different in my country. Corrected: Every festival is different in my country.

This question demonstrates how careful you need to be in selecting the best answers. There is clearly a mistake with the auxiliary verb are / is here - but the two answers listed that use this terminology are 'unnecessary auxiliary verb' and 'missing auxiliary verb' - neither of which are accurate descriptions of this problem. So, be careful - don't just spot that the 'auxiliary verb' is wrong and jump for one of these answers. You also need to be careful of the answer 'wrong verb form' - which is arguably correct, but is not the most precise description of the problem.

'Every festival' is a singular subject and requires a singular verb. In the incorrect sentence, the verb form is in the plural. In other words, the subject and verb do not agree.

4. Wrong: We must to protect the environment. Corrected: We must protect the environment.

Must (like can, should, might etc.) is a modal auxiliary verb. In sentences like this, after a modal verb we need to use the verb 'base form' (also called the 'infinitive without to'). This is a fixed sentence pattern which could be expressed as a grammar rule like this: subject + modal verb + base form.

5. Wrong: What time did you say you going out later? Corrected: What time did you say you are going out later?

Once again, we have problems with those troublesome auxiliary verbs! In this case, the auxiliary are has been left out of the sentence. This may be hard to spot because the sentence is quite complex and already contains a number of verb forms (did, say, going) that may help to hide the fact that one more is needed. It may be useful just to look at the end of the sentence on its own: '... you going out later'. Clearly, there is something missing here. To make the present progressive (also known as present continuous) we always need an auxiliary verb (am, are, or is) together with the -ing form of the verb. In the incorrect sentence this auxiliary verb is completely missing.

So what are the answers?

1C 2A 3F 4D 5B 

The option which is not needed is E (There is no phrasal verb in the sentences)

What else should I study?

Although, this question type is often likely to be about grammar, it could be used with other language areas, such as pronunciation or vocabulary.

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