ECPE Grammar Examples

ECPE grammar questions tend to focus on areas where it is easy for students to get confused between different alternatives, and the gapped sentences are written in such a way that there will be three or four alternatives that may seem reasonable to some candidates.

The questions are designed to trap candidates, so don't just look for the first answer that might be right and go for that. Although you need to be fast, you need to be thoughtful enough and give yourself enough time to spot the traps.

To help you become familiar with ECPE grammar questions here is a selection of genuine questions from the past, grouped according to the area of grammar they focus on.

Getting the right tense of the verb

The following is a simple question about the correct tense to use with when for the future.

When the deadline _____, you must be
prepared to work longer hours.
a. approached
b. will approach
c. approaches
d. approaching

And the present perfect:

Nick must be really sick. He _____ class in two
a. isn't attending
b. won't attend
c. didn't attend
d. hasn't attended

Plus the correct tense for trends.

Noise pollution _____ serious.
a. is being increasingly
b. has been increasing
c. has become increased
d. is becoming increasingly

Wishes and hypothetical situation where so-called unreal tenses are used (e.g. the past for the present) will catch some students out.

"I'm tired of taking the bus to work every day."
"I wish I had a car _____ give you a ride."
a. that I can
b. that I could
c. so that I can
d. so that I could

(Note that the tense problem is mixed with a misleading relative pronoun and also a linking phrase – so that.)

Stative uses of verbs could crop up.

Mark _____ younger than he is.
a. is appearing
b. appears he is
c. appears to be
d. appears being

This also includes the issue of the correct form (infintive/-ing) of the second verb, which is highlighted below.

Key words and time expressions with particular tenses

We can say "had still not" but we can't say "had not still".

The teams were ready to play, but the referee
had not _____ arrived.
a. yet
b. still
c. just
d. already

_____ 8 o'clock when the guests arrive, I will
light the candles.
a. Just before
b. By the time
c. Until
d. While

We say "I will do it by 6:00pm" and "I will do it in/within the next couple of days."

I heard that she will be released from the
hospital _____ the next few weeks.
a. until
b. by
c. between
d. within


These could be prepositions tied to certain verbs such as:

Mary had to lean _____ the counter to open the
a. above
b. over
c. after
d. around

Or they could be prepositions that begin prepositional phrases such as: in charge, on the brink of, on behalf of, in jeopardy, under surveillance, up for sale, etc.

"The President says the company is making
more cars this year than last year."
"_____ attribute the increase in productivity?"
a. Does he
b. What to
c. To what does he
d. What does he

(Here we need to know that we attribute an event to a cause, and we need to know that the preposition can come before the question word: "To what do you attribute this?")

We say "at night" but we don't use at with day.

She cooked _____ day and read books at night.
a. during the
b. at
c. in
d. at the


The following question combines the issue of whether to use never or ever with the problem of getting the word order right.

Jane's late again. Why _____ be on time?
a. can she ever
b. she can never
c. can't she ever
d. doesn't she ever

We can form negatives either with "not … any" or with none.

I searched everywhere in the kitchen for some
sugar but _____ none.
a. have not found
b. did not find
c. found
d. finding

With the following question students have to see that a word with a negative meaning is needed.

Peter is so busy that he _____ has time to sleep.
a. almost
b. even
c. hardly
d. nearly

Neither and nor can be used with inversions: "Neither did I/Nor did I."

The boss didn't know what to do, _____ the
rest of us.
a. so did
b. either
c. neither
d. nor did

Relative clauses

The trickier aspects of relative clauses include reduced relative clauses ("The woman seen running away from the bank …" instead of: "The woman who was seen running away from the bank …").

The conclusion _____ in that article states that
this medicine is effective.
a. is present
b. presented
c. is presented
d. presenting

Which used to refer back to an entire statement.

Bob is left-handed, _____ no one else in our
family is.
a. which
b. who
c. that
d. for which

Phrases like some of which, many of whom, all of which may catch some people out.

I've read many books, the most interesting
_____ was War and Peace.
a. which
b. of which
c. that
d. of that

Question words

A common Michigan tactic involves trying to catch students out with words like what, which, how, why, etc which are sometimes followed by the inverted subject- word order for questions and sometimes not.

The study showed _____ for maternal and
child health.
a. how is nutrition important
b. how important nutrition is
c. that how important nutrition is
d. that how nutrition is important

Other inversions

Inversions after "Not only…", "Only after…", "No sooner…" etc are fairly obvious targets.

Only by working three jobs _____ able to
support his large family.
a. he was
b. he is
c. he's being
d. was he


One type of problem involves spotting whether we need an adjective or a verb.

The new stadium has _____ price tag of $5
a. an estimated
b. estimated
c. been estimated
d. the estimate

Leon is very rich, so he _____ about money.
a. has not concerns
b. is not concerned
c. does not concern
d. does not concerning

In the following question students have to get the comparison right.

Sam worked _____ he could to finish the job on
a. so fast that
b. as fast as
c. faster than
d. faster so

Confusing adverbs

We say "Keep quiet!" but "Talk quietly!", "work hard" but "hardly work", "travel free" or "travel freely", "stand clear" but "speak clearly", etc, etc. The list is finite and students obviously need to be familiar with it.

Bob came very _____ the lottery.
a. closely won
b. closely to winning
c. close to win
d. close to winning

-ing and infinitive forms of verbs

Getting the form right of a second verb.

I'd like _____ this with you before the meeting.
a. to discuss about
b. discussing about
c. the discussing of
d. to discuss

(Note here the combination of issues: -ing/infinitive and the question of whether discuss can be followed by about, which it can't: talk about – okay – but not discuss about.)

In the same exam we have another sentence beginning with "I'd like…"

"What kind of hotel room would you like?"
"I would like _____ a room with an ocean
a. its being
b. that it is
c. it to be
d. that being

-ing/-ed phrases

We can use phrases with present participles: "Feeling confident, he climbed into the ring," or with past participles: "Given the cost, they decided to do without," or perfect participles: "Having lost the match, he broke down in tears." Students need to be able to judge which is the most appropriate in a particular situation.

_____ we leave at 3:00, we should get there by
a. Assuming
b. Having assumed
c. To assume
d. Assumed

"Did Sam give the taxi driver a big tip?"
"Yes, _____ told it wasn't necessary, he did."
a. has not been
b. he has not been
c. not having been
d. his not being

And following a preposition to indicate the sequence of events.

After _____ worked in the factory for two
years, she finally transferred to the main office.
a. she has
b. has been
c. her having
d. having

The –ing form is also used in sentences such as: "The shop was closed due to the rent being so high."

The strike happened because of the workers
_____ happy with their long hours.
a. are not
b. not to be
c. they aren't
d. not being

Words with the same root

Here students have to spot that a noun is needed and then choose the right one.

This newspaper has more _____ than that
a. popularity
b. popular
c. popularization
d. popularly

Linking expressions

_____ happy in the new school, John missed
his old friends.
a. Usually
b. Although
c. Being
d. Even

_____ we have enough money, where would
you like to travel this summer?
a. So that
b. Provided that
c. Despite the fact that
d. Unless


"Is this your purse?"
"No, it's _____ purse."
a. somebody's else
b. somebody else's
c. somebody's else's
d. somebody else

Tricky modal verbs

The unusual use of should in a conditional sentence is one modal expression that could easily come up.

"Did the Director of the school answer you
"No, but _____ I hear from him by 5pm, I'll let
you know."
a. might
b. could
c. would
d. should

Quantity expressions

Students need to know when we say the most and when we use most without the.

"Do you like chocolate?"
"Yes, I think _____ people do."
a. the most of
b. almost
c. most of
d. most

We say "every year" but we don't say "every year round."

In the tropics, farmers can grow crops _____
year round.
a. every
b. each
c. all
d. most

We say "all of us" but we can't drop the of in that expression.

I think that _____ may have to help Theresa
plan the party.
a. all us
b. us all
c. we all
d. all we


Whether or not to use whether.

John couldn't decide _____ to go to the meeting
or to finish his report.
a. either
b. whether
c. between
d. if


Although verb forms come at the top of the list as far as frequency of grammar items in the ECPE is concerned, there are other areas such as prepositional phrases and quantity expressions that teachers and students should not overlook.

It is also clear from the analysis of this particular test just what the philosophy behind the ECPE is. Instead of giving students an opportunity to show how good their command of the language is, the exam focuses on those areas which are likely to cause the most confusion. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that the ECPE questions are not intended to find out what the students know, but what they don't know.


Good preparation: Students need to prepare well for the grammar because it is much more predictable than the vocabulary part of the GCVR. It is likely that many students will not do well in the vocabulary section and to make up for this they must get a sufficiently high mark in the ECPE grammar section.

Spotting the traps: With some students it might help to get them thinking about how the ECPE grammar questions try to catch them out, and then draw some conclusions about how to avoid the traps.

For instance, look again at this question:

This newspaper has more _____ than that
a. popularity
b. popular
c. popularization
d. popularly

The examiners have deliberately followed the gap with "than" so that hasty students wrongly pick the adjective to precede it. To avoid this trap students simply need to make sure that the entire sentence makes sense instead of just following the first pattern that springs to mind.

The importance of speed: With 120 questions in the GCVR and only 75 minutes, there is no time to waste. Teachers and students will need to work out the best way of allocating time. In order to leave enough time for the cloze and the four reading passages students might need to spend no more than 10 minutes on the 40 grammar questions.

About Fullspate: - Fullspate is actually one man with a PhD and a laptop who grew tired of the bland contents of EFL coursebooks, decided to write slightly more engaging stuff for his English students, and then thought it might be nice to share them online. Then subsequently packed it in.





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