A Corpus-based Study of the Misuse of Tenses in the English Composition of Chinese College Students

  •  Manfu Duan    


Chinese Students’ English has its own characteristics. It is of significance to analyze and study these characteristics. The paper uses the corpus approach to study the misuse of tenses in Chinese College students’ CET-4 compositions of the sub-corpus of “Non-major College Students” in the Chinese Learner English Corpus (CLEC). Nine types of misuse are identified, and analysis is made of the causes of each type. It is found that the misuse of tenses in Chinese college students’ English compositions is mainly in the simple present tense and the simple past tense; the wrong collocation of tenses is mostly in the kind of complex sentence with the main clause and subordinate clause both indicating the future action and the subordinate clause using the simple present tense; as for the two special words “could” and “would” with both declarative and subjunctive usages, Chinese students often get confused and misuse them; students have vague understanding of the time concept indicated by the different tenses. Based on the analysis, the author tentatively provide some interpretations for these mistakes: many problems exist in the teaching of grammar in Chinese English teaching, and the teaching of tenses is not systematic and the focus of teaching and tests is not in accordance with the actual uses of tenses; students are affected by inter-lingual transfer and intra-lingual transfer when making English sentences. At last, some suggestions are offered by the author for the teaching of tenses: teachers should combine systematic teaching of tenses with the teaching of tenses in actual contexts and students should try to write English compositions using different tenses.

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