Past Year PSLE Past Perfect Question That Tripped Up Students


One of the more difficult English grammar rules for students to grasp is the past perfect.

The past perfect is a verb tense used to talk about actions that were completed before some point in the past. In other words, the past perfect tense is used when talking about something (Event A) that happened before something else (Event B).

The Past Perfect Formula: had + [past participle]

Example: Stephy fed her unicorn only when it had stopped neighing.

In the 2017 PSLE English Paper 2 exam, some students were tripped up by the following Synthesis and Transformation question.

Question:

Mr Hamid invited the author to give a talk. Her book won an award.

_________________________ whose ________________________.

​In Synthesis and Transformation, students are required to rewrite the original sentence(s) in a single sentence that uses the provided word(s) while retaining the meaning of the given sentence(s).

Students are usually taught not to add words to or remove words from the original sentence(s) unless absolutely necessary as a rule of thumb. As a result, most students ended up coming up with the following answer:

Mr Hamid invited the author, whose book won an award, to give a talk.

At first glance, this answer may appear correct. However upon closer inspection, you'll realise that the chronology of events is not clear. From the original sentences, we can infer that the author had won the award (Event A) prior to Mr Hamid's invitation (Event B), but this context is lost in the above answer. It takes an astute student to realise that the past perfect has to come into play to preserve the chronology of events.

With this in mind, the answer should be as follows:

Mr Hamid invited the author, whose book had won an award, to give a talk.

or

The author, whose book had won an award, was invited by Mr Hamid to give a talk.

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