Research Key

Tenses and Students’ Performance in Written English: The Case of the Level 200 Students of the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine

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Qualitative research
Analytical tool
Descriptive statistics
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This study was aimed at assessing written English of level 200 students in the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Buea with a focus on their use of English tenses.

In order to accomplish this research work, an essay writing test was administered to the students. The students were expected to write short narratives in the past tense. The scripts were collected and the unintelligible responses made by the students were listed out. Almost 80% of the students could be evaluated to have successfully used tenses and few challenges found.

Findings from the study revealed that the challenges faced by the students were the misplacement of tenses that are using the present tense in the place of the past tense and vice versa.

Finally, the researcher suggested some recommendations that the students need to make more efforts in their use of tenses so as not to misplace them and they should read grammar books and also learn for themselves from exposure to a vast number of texts.



Background to the study

Language is that form of communication which uses words. It is and structured with a writing system used to transfer information from one individual to another. The English Language is one of the official languages in Cameroon alongside the French Language.

It was introduced by the British when Cameroon was partitioned between Britain and France after the defeat of the Germans in the year 1916 during the First World War. The English Language was then introduced in every school in the British part of Cameroon as a language of instruction and a subject of its own.

The English Language is a compulsory subject in public examinations like The First School Leaving Certificate, The Cameroon General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) as well as a compulsory course and requirement for admission into the Anglo- Saxon Universities of Bamenda and Buea.

Therefore being a language of instruction, and administration, the introduction of the English language in schools is aimed at easing studies in other disciplines like Chemistry, History, Geography etc.

It is obvious that Standard British English for instance cannot be used effectively in Cameroon like in the United States of America or South Africa. This is occasioned by the multilingual nature of Cameroon with about 283 languages spoken over the national territory and these languages have a great impact on the English Language in Cameroon.

The language pattern of Cameroon is classified into two official languages, French and English. The country which is made up of ten regions has eight French-speaking regions and two English speaking regions. This has given two groups of people (Anglophones and Francophones).

The English language has a tense marking to indicate the relationship between a situation and the time of the speech. Tense is classified into three parts: the present tense which is divided into the present simple(affirmative and negative) and the present progressive(affirmative and negative), the past tense divided into the simple past, the past subjunctive, the past progressive and the past perfect and finally the future tense comprising of the future simple and future progressive.

Bernard Comrie (1992.18) defines tense as the gramatization of the location of time. Some find it quite difficult to use tenses like the Simple past tense especially using the subject-verb agreement, adverb and usage.

Furthermore, Martin Parrots( 1993:32) says many learners get confused by the number of tense forms we use for expressing time in English, therefore, expect e teachers to draw attention to the different uses of the different forms separately with clear and defined rules for using them.

The researcher’s interest is therefore to know which tenses students commonly use and those they have problems in their usage and how the mastery of the correct forms of tenses affects their performances in written English.

Definition of terms

The following terms are defined in order to make this research work better understood and reliable.


Tenses are verb forms expressing time that is one of the sets of forms of a verb that expresses the time at which an action takes place relative to the writer, for example, the present, the past and future tenses.

The Cambridge Advanced learner’s Dictionary defines tense as any form of a verb which shows the time an action happens.

Official language

An official language according to the definition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia is a language that is given legal status in a particular country, state or other jurisdiction and is a language used for communication in the media, administration, law, education and religion. For instance the English and French language in Cameroon.

Second language

A second language according to Klein (1986:19) is a language that becomes another tool for communication alongside the first language and is actually acquired in a social environment where it is spoken.


Agreement according to Richard Nordsquit (1994:23) is the correspondence of a verb with its subject in person and number and a pronoun with it antecedent.

Statement of the problem

Despite all the efforts made by the Cameroon government to promote English Language in schools, there is still evidence that students continue to use tenses wrongly even after they have been taught.

In this study, the researcher seeks to know more about particular tenses which pose challenges as they write.

Research Questions

This question has been formulated to guide this study:

– What are the challenges faced by students in using tenses in their writing?

Tenses and Students’ Performance in Written English: The Case of the Level 200 Students of the Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine

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