A to Z of Essential Grammar for IELTS
Welcome to our A to Z of Essential Grammar for IELTS. Click on the topics below to read about some of must-know aspects of English grammar.
Each language has its own unique style. Its own unique way of looking at the world which, in turn, is reflected in the way the community of speakers actually use the language. Emphasis is placed on some language features, while others are downplayed. Particular words are used in particular contexts, and there is a preference for one grammatical form over another. In order to sound fluent and communicate naturally within the English speaking community it is essential that a speaker understand and use these features.
Even though it might still be possible for a person to construct sentences and speak about the world around them without a sound knowledge of these language features, the speaker would be left sounding unnatural.
So it is this precisely this unique style that you need to master in order to achieve the higher band scores in your IELTS exam. All of these higher band scores require the candidate to demonstrate a sense of these features. For example, one of the band 7 criteria under Lexical Range in the IELTS Speaking Test is "some awareness of style and collocation".
Without at least some feeling for the words English speakers usually use in particular contexts or for how to pronounce contracted forms of verbs it is difficult to move beyond band 5 or 6.
A to Z of Essential Grammar for IELTS
The following entries discuss some of the essential features that you need to know in order to prepare for the IELTS exam.
A to Z of Essential Grammar for IELTS
Grammatical aspect is a big topic. For our purposes it is best to think of it as using verbs in certain ways to show the speaker's point of view. Let's take the form of grammatical aspect be +ing to serve as an example.
This a continuous aspect which indicates that the speaker views the event they are describing as taking place over an extended period of time.
She's making dinner (the activity of cooking take time) as opposed to He cooks (which is not marked for aspect).
It is also possible to use the continuous aspect at other points of time: They were cooking; It'll be raining.
Another important grammatical aspect in English is the perfective. One way to indicate this in English is with have and the 3rd form of the verb (e.g. do/did/done). They've all done it (the action is complete and has an impact on the time the speaking is talking about). Like with the continuous aspect, the perfective aspect can be used to describe different points in time. He'd already done it (past); He'll have done it (future).
The continuous and perfective aspects can of course be combined: You'd been studying really hard before the exam. (past:had; perfective: have been; continuous: be studying).
In the IELTS writing and speaking exams, you will be tested on your ability to use a range of grammatical structures. One good way to ensure that you do use a range is to make sure you know how to appropriately use English grammatical aspect since each example that you use counts as a grammatical structure.
Here are some more sentences:
It would have been working if he had fixed it last week.
He'll be sleeping now.
I'm studying a lot at the moment.
I've been playing computer games for 4 hours straight.
We've eaten the lot.
That'll have tipped the balance.
Study tip: Make sure you use contractions when speaking: Illve gone. This is something that it takes time to get used to, so set aside some time especially to practice it. If you're pushed for time, practice in the shower.
[In the writing exam, except for some General Training Task 1 letters, it would be incorrect to contract. Instead, write in full: I will have gone.]
"He's making a list, he's checking it twice. He's gonna find out if you've been naughty or nice."
"Romeo and Juliet fell head over heels in love"
A binomial is a pair of words or phrases used in a fixed order. The two words or phrases are always from the same grammatical category (e.g. adjective and adjective), always have related meanings (e.g. cause and effect), and when combined form idiomatic expressions. Using these phrases accurately and appropriately can help you fulfill the band 7 criteria: "uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary" [see also C is for Collocation below].
The phrases are often joined with and or with or.
bride and groom
come and go
Heaven and Hell
here and there
high and low
in and out
love and hate
near and far
friend or foe
life or death
this or that
The most important thing to remember is that they are irreversible. For example the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry cannot be called
Jerry and Tom; a photograph can be black and white but not white and black.
It is common for the phrases to rhyme or alliterate [i.e. repeat sounds]:
bed and breakfast
fast and furious
forgive and forget
live and learn
rags to riches
read and write
rest and relaxation
right and wrong
rough and ready
rules and regulations
Here are some more example sentences with binomial expressions:
The discussion went back and forth before they came to an agreement.
There was lot's of coming and going. [=activity]
We were read the dos and don'ts before they let us in.
It's important that there is some give and take.
The difference between them was night and day.
We go there every now and then.
I follow the news on and off.
It was an open and shut case.
There are many pros and cons.
I supported my sister through thick and thin.
She was born and raised in the countryside.
I had to get up bright and early.
My mother insisted everything was clean and tidy.
It stood out head and shoulders above all the rest.
I put my heart and soul into it.
My little sister improved leaps and bounds.
Whenever I go shopping I like to be able to pick and choose the best quality.
Her actions were wrong. Plain and simple.
After he left prison he stayed on the strait and narrow.
The stress and strain of being in the public eye was too much.
We like to go out and about at the weekend.
After studying hard for many months, slowly but surely, I started to see some improvements.
He was beaten black and blue [=bruised]
Our teachers used to say we were like chalk and cheese [=complete opposites]
Jeans are great because I can mix and match them with different shirts or t-shirts.
Finally, after another couple of hours' driving we arrived home safe and sound
When we were kids we'd play in the fountain slipping and sliding everywhere.
Study tip: The best way to learn any type of idiomatic expression is hearing or reading it often in context. However, if you are pushed for time, try learning a few bionomial expressions which relate to the common topics in Part 2 of the Speaking Test. For example, peace and quiet can be used when talking about a trip that went wrong ("My father loved to get some peace and quiet when on holiday, but when we arrived we found that there was road construction going on right in front of the hotel.") or when talking about visiting an art gallery ("The sculpture was in a courtyard at the side of the main gallery. I was the only one in there. The peace and quiet added to the overall atmosphere").
Collocation is the technical term for certain words tending to regularly and predictably occur together to form word combinations. For example, we say make a decision not
create a decision. The word 'make' and 'decision' collocate. On the other hand, we say create an opportunity not make an opportunity. So the words 'make' and 'opportunity' do not collocate.
With some collocations we are very restricted and cannot change the words in any way (on foot not
by foot, on feet), but with others we can make some (limited) changes:
make a decision or take a decision
make an appointment or fix an appointment
have a day off or take a few days off
crystal clear or completely clear
sound asleep or fast asleep
In a certain sense collocation might be seen as lying somewhere between between vocabulary and grammar. Some examples of vocabulary-focused collocations are adjective-noun combinations like high earnings (not big earnings) or verb-noun combinations like break off an engagement (not withdraw an engagement). Grammar-focused collocations, on the other hand, often involve prepositions (e.g. adhere to, account for) or restricted verb forms (e.g. the courage to do it rather than of doing it).
So, as you can see, collocation is extremely important. It is at the centre of what makes English English. And therefore a sound knowledge of collocation will go a long way to getting you the band score you want. For example, take a look at the criteria for Lexical Resource at band 7:
"uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices"
Study tip: Organise your vocabulary notebooks around collocations so that when you revise you learn all the words that go together at the same time and you'll get used to producing them as 'chunks' of language.
This is a technical term for a verb which does not have any (or much) meaning in itself. Instead, the meaning in the phrase comes from the accompanying noun. For example, in the phrase let's have a look the meaning is carried by the noun a look.
So why does English use delexical verb constructions? Because it allows more focus to be given to the end of the sentence: compare I'll think about it with I'll give it some thought.
There are 6 delexical verbs (have, take, make, give, go, and do) and they are very commonly used. Learning to use these constructions in your speaking and writing will instantly make your language more natural sounding and boost your level.
Take a look at the examples below:
She had a look into it
He had a drink
They are always having arguments
We'll have a listen tonight
He takes a shower every morning
They took a detour
Take a chance on me
They made a promise which they had to keep
Don't make a sound!
My family would always make a booking before setting off on a trip
My brother would always give us a smile before starting the game
He gave me a slap on the back
I've got to give an important speech tomorrow
My father gave me a warning about it and some useful advice about how to avoid it
My sister's gone shopping
We pulled over and went for a walk
I'll do the washing up if you do the drying
Have you done your make-up yet?
Study tip: So how should we learn these constructions? Well, it is important to note that we can't use simply any delexical verb. The verbs collocate very strongly with the nouns they accompany, so you must learn the whole combination. A good technique is to devote one whole page in your notebook for each lexical verb and record as many examples you can from your reading and listening. The act of writing them down will help you remember them. Turn this into a habit - each day add some more entries. Think of yourself as an explorer searching for new species to record in your collection.
Here we are talking about the ending of second and third forms of regular verbs (e.g. play, played, played). Why is this so important? Well, it is because the pronunciation of ed changes depending on the word: watched, tagged, and started are pronounced /wɒtʃt/, /tægd/, /stɑːtɪd/.
But do not fear! The system determining which sound is used with which verb is simple and regular.
Before we look at the rules though, one thing to bear in mind is that it is never pronounced like the title of this entry /ed/.
Category 1:/t/ when the last consonant sound before the ed ending is one of the following:/p f θ s ʃ ʧ k/
Category 2:/d/ when the last consonant sound before the ed ending is one of the following:/b v ð z ʒ ʤ g m n ŋ/
Category 3: /ɪd/when the last consonant sound before the ed ending is one of the following:/t d/
An secondary implication for this aspect of English pronunciation is that verbs in categories 1 and 2 have fewer syllables than might be expected. For example watched has one syllable and remembered has only three.
Not only is this small aspect of English important, it is also relatively simple. So get practicing and good luck using it in the IELTS Speaking Test.
Study tip: As with most aspects of pronunciation there are two complimentary ways to approach improving this area of your English: listening and articulation practice. The first one, listening, is easy and fun - simply listen to as much English as you possibly can - choose topics you enjoy and your brain will be doing the learning for you even when you are not aware of it. The second approach, articulation practice, will help exercise your tongue and other speaking muscles. Repeatedly practice saying phrases with verbs taking the three forms /t d ɪd/. Pay attention to your pronunciation. You can do this type of activity whenever you are alone - in the bathroom or in your car.
There is no future tense in English. Technically speaking, that is. Instead, there are a range of constructions we can use to talk about future events and situations.
We're meeting them tomorrow (present continuous tense)
The train arrives at 7.15 tonight (present simple)
If the train is late, they'll be late for the meeting (present simple and will+1st form)
They're going to be late (going to+1st form)
They'll have missed the meeting by then (future perfect)
There is also a way to talk about a future time which has already occurred in the past:
After their invention, they would be standard use for the next 25 years.
Study tip: This is a big area and will take a long time to master. There are no short-cuts. Lots of reading and listening is crucial. Choose topics you enjoy and do it regularly.
A gerund is the form of a noun that ends in -ing. Gerunds are an important part of English grammar because, whenever we want to express the action contained in a verb as an thing or idea, we use a gerund. Take for example, the verb to shop. If we want to say that to do this action is fun, we can use a gerund: Shopping is fun.
Gerunds are also necessary in another important area of grammar. Prepositions are always followed by nouns, for example: the cat is on the mat; the let's talk to him. So, if we what to follow a preposition with the idea contained in a verb we must change it to a gerund by adding -ing:
Let's talk about going there later this evening.
We should not underestimate the benefits of giving money to charity.
Because gerunds are a type of noun we can modify them in some of ways we modify other nouns:
My asking him to come was just a last minute decision.
It was up to them to handle the managing of the crisis.
This insisting on perfection must stop.
Here are some more sentences with gerunds:
Cheating is wrong.
Fixing electricity cables is dangerous.
Flying makes me nervous.
Increasing the number of police officers on the streets will reduce crime.
More pollution will result in increasing numbers of people with respiratory illness
Exercising everyday is important for your health.
One of her biggest fears is speaking in public.
The hardest thing about travelling is communicating with locals
Study tip: Pick up a newspaper at your local newsagent's (or go to a newspaper online). Compete with a friend in finding as many gerunds as you can in, say, one article, or even a whole page. Set a timer and highlight each instance you find. Once the timer goes off, count up how many you have found to see who the winner is. This type of speed reading will help you hone your editing skills ready for checking your own writing when it comes to the IELTS Writing Test.
Hyphens [the sign - ] are punctuation marks which are important in forming grammatically correct sentences. They have three main uses, but they are not all equally important for the IELTS Writing Test:
1 To indicate the division of a word at the end of a line
We do not recommend you do this in the IELTS Writing Test because it is much easier (and safer) to simply start the word on a new line. If you do split a word at the end of a line, you must make sure you split it at the correct syllable boundary. Therefore, it is best to avoid this completely.
2 To indicate the missing part of a first word which is duplicated in a second word:
over- and undernourished
pre- and postnatal healthcare
Although this use of the hyphen is naturally not that frequent, if you use it (correctly) in the IELTS Exam it will help to demonstrate good control of punctuation.
3 to join words which are, grammatically speaking, in the same part of a sentence. For example, in the first sentence below state-of-the-art is a single adjective meaning modern.
She designed a state-of-the-art building.
It was a friendly-looking dog [adjective describing the dog]
I don't get on with my mother-in-law [noun referring to one person]
Getting this use of the hyphen correct is crucial for band 7 and above. One way to check you are right is to try replacing the hyphenated words with a single word. If it fits then you are right to hyphenate.
Idioms are a group of words with a meaning which is not (easily) understandable from the individual words.
Under the weather (ill)
up to one's neck (completely overwhelmed by something bad)
give in (stop trying/stop resisting)
see the light (admit you were wrong and change your mind)
up in the air (uncertain)
touch wood (hopefully)
Idioms are relatively fixed phrases. While some allow limited changes, others are completely fixed:
Limited changes possible: It's up to you/me/her/John/the other people in the room
Fixed: over the moon/
There is also another type of phrase closely related to idioms called fixed expressions. In the case of fixed expressions the meaning is generally understandable. Examples are:
Come to think of it (on reflection - said when an idea or point occurs to one while one is speaking)
keep an eye on (to watch / look after)
came as no surprise (it was expected / not surprising)
It's only a matter of time until (it will happen at some point in the future)
Not stand a chance of […ing] (has no possibility)
Some times there is no clear distinction between idioms, fixed expressions, and collocations. Instead we can think of Idiomatic language in general. To get a band 7 score in the IELTS Speaking Test you must have some ability to use idiomatic language.
To be frank, there are no areas of grammar which both begin with the letter K and are essential for IELTS. But just out of curiosity you might like to know about this interesting though very infrequently used aspect of English grammar which dates back to the origins of the English language in Anglo-Saxon times. It is also shared with other Germanic languages.
Kennings are two word noun combinations which do not directly refer to their object but instead combine to form a type of mini-translation with a metaphorical meaning. Here's an example:
Bookworm = someone who reads a lot
You can see that the word does not directly refer to a reader but instead compares the reader to a worm that 'spends their time inside books eating them up'.
But be careful. As with all aspects of language context is important. Some kennings are extremely informal or humorous and could be considered impolite if used at the wrong time or place. Also, do not attempt to invent your own particularly in the exam.
Bookworm = someone who reads a lot
First Lady = the wife of the president
Hot potato = something no one wants to have
Hot water = trouble
Mind reader = a person who knows what you are thinking
Showstopper = a performance receiving long applause
***Humourous, disparaging, informal register
Ankle biter = a very young child
Rugrat = a toddler or crawling baby
Bean counter = a bookkeeper or accountant
Brown noser = a person who does anything to gain approval
Four-eyes = someone who wears glasses
Motor mouth = a person who talks a lot and/or quickly
Pencil pusher = a person with a clerical job
Fender bender = a car accident
Tree hugger = an environmentalist
Modal verbs are a group of special verbs used to describe concepts like possibility, certainty, doubt, permission and ability. They are special in two senses. First of all, they are special in grammatical terms because they do not behave like other verbs. Secondly, they are also special because they are used very frequently. Most modal verbs appear among the top 200 most commonly used English words. If you want to speak like a native, you'll have to use model verbs.
Here they are: can, could, may, might, shall, should, must, will, and would.
And here are some example sentences:
It must be true.
I couldn't carry one.
I'd've bought it if I'd known.
He'll be arriving soon.
Could I borrow your car?
It might be a good idea.
Shall we go to the amusement park?
Study tip: Practice contracting modal verbs during speech so that you are used to doing this for the speaking test: "I'd've gone if I could've". Work with a partner and take turns talking about things in the past that "you did not do, but…". Make a note of how many contractions your partner makes.
A non-finite clause is part of a sentence with a verb form with either the to-infinite, the -ing, or the -ed forms. They normally do not have subjects.
They can be either an integral part of a sentence:
To book ahead of time was silly
All she every does is work
Or they can form a subordinate clause:
Having said that, such an increase would have considerable consequences.
If implemented, these policies would improve people's lives.
It is worth noting down any examples you find in your general reading and to experiment with using them in your writing practice before the exam.
Put simply the operator is the word in a verb phrase which does all the grammatical 'work' of the sentence. It is only the operator in the sentence which can do any of the following:
- add not (n't ) to form negatives = I didn't go
- invert with the subject to form questions = Have you been?
- invert with the subject in certain literary and formal adverbial constructions. = Never have so many people gone home so happy.
- replace a whole verb phrase = He said he wouldn't go, but I will.
In fact, only the auxiliary verbs be, have, and do, or modal verbs (e.g. must or would) can act as operators in a sentence. This means that with lexical verbs (i.e. all other verbs such as play, speak,write,go,stay) we need to add an operator in order to do any of the four actions listed above. For example, You watch Netflix every day becomes
You don't watch Netflix every day
Do you watch Netflix every day?
You watch Netflix every day but she doesn't.
There are two particularly interesting cases to consider. The verbs have and do can function as both auxiliary and lexical verbs. Auxiliary verbs have a purely grammatical use (e.g. I have been there or I don't play the guitar) whereas lexical verbs have a clear identifiable meaning (e.g. I have a cat; I do yoga every morning). Importantly, when these two verbs occur as lexical verbs they use do as an operator.
I don't have a car
I don't do any studying at the weekend.
Finally, it is also worth noting that when verbs in the past (e.g. worked) take an operator it is the operator which assumes the past form:
We worked every weekday
We didn't work at the weekend
Having a good understanding of operators will help you in your IELTS Exam. Especially when checking and reviewing your writing.
Prepositions can be found in many places in a sentence. They occur in phrases about time (on Wednesdays) and place (at the bottom of the garden) or means (by car). And they also occur in conjunction with verbs (He talked about going; She looked at him).
Normally prepositions are short words (in, at, on) but they can also be a bit longer (throughout, alongside). Some prepositions are two- or three-word combinations (according to, in front of). All prepositions serve to introduce something else and may have a clear meaning of their own (lift up the cover, turn over the page, stand among the contestants) or only a vague one (He helped himself to a piece of fruit).
In order to prepare for the IELTS exam, we would recommend you spend time keeping an eye out for examples of preposition use and collocation as well as practise using them in your own speaking and writing. Errors with prepositions tend to stand out, so making any mistakes in your exam could affect your results.
My sister got
on her car and we went home (got in).
by foot (on foot).
One aspect of English preposition use which is interesting is what is called stranding. That is where the preposition is placed far away from the word or phrase it is introducing, often at the end of a sentence .
What was he waiting for?
This is a benefit which we don't usually talk about
This really is something we should look at before the next meeting
Juncture is a term linguists use to refer to the space between syllables, the way in which a speaker moves between syllables, and any changes that occur. The difference in where a space is placed can be seen in the following set of examples:
ice cream /aɪs.kriːm/ and I scream /aɪ.skriːm/
Grey day/greɪ deɪ/ and grade A /greɪd eɪ/
a name /ə.neɪm/ and an aim /ən.eɪm/
that stuff /ðæt.stʌf/ and that's tough /ðæts.tʌf/
In rapid natural speech the juncture between sounds is often lost, with the result that each pair in the four sets of examples above would sound identical.
Also, in natural connected speech other sound changes can take place at the site of syllable junctures. In the example below the /nd/ becoming an /m/ makes it easier to pronounce.:
handbag /ˈhænd.bæɡ/ becomes/ˈhæm.bæɡ/ where the /nd/ changes to an /m/ sound
Moreover, again in rapid natural speech, a consonant sound in one word occurring before a vowel sound in the next often 'jumps' across the juncture and attach to the vowel sound. For example:
My bike is blue
"bike is" become "bi kis"
/maɪ.baɪk.ɪz.blu/ becomes /maɪ.baɪ.kɪz.blu/
Hand in the work on time
"hand in" become "han din" and "work on" become "wor kon"
/hænd.ɪn.ðə.wɜːk.ɔn.tɑɪm/ becomes /hæn.dɪn.ðə.wɜː.kɔn.tɑɪm/
Knowing that this happens in connected speech will help you when you are listening to natural English. Incorporating them into your own speech is more difficult. It is not impossible, but will take time and you should start by listening to a lot of native audio.
Quantifiers are words and phrases used to refer to numbers and amounts. For example a lot of in the sentence There were a lot of people at the performance. Here are some more:
much, many, (a) few, (a) little, several, enough, lots (of), a lot of, some (of), a little bit (of).
There are also more informal words and phrases such as heaps (of), lashings (of), tons (of) a ton (of). We can also think of the following indefinite pronouns as quantifiers: everyone, somebody, nothing. For example: Nobody went to the party.
Quantifiers are very common throughout speech and writing. In both Part 1 and Part 2 of the IELTS Writing Test it is necessary to use quantifiers to express subtle meanings and differences. Also, in the IELTS Speaking Test you have to demonstrate an ability to use a range of quantifiers in talking about both familiar and more abstract topics. Therefore it is important that you develop your productive ability to use a range of these words and phrases appropriately.
A relative clause links back to a noun in a main clause. In the following example 'that we saw at the supermarket 'relates back to dog in the main clause 'It was the same dog'.
It was the same dog that we saw outside the supermarket.
The word that links the relative clause to the main clause is called a relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, and that) or relative adverb (when and where)
This is the man who stole my car.
That is the man whose car I stole.
I don't remember the house where I was born.
That is the man (that) I hate.
Note that when the relative pronoun (that) refers to the object (man) of the verb (hate) in the relative clause, the relative pronoun can be (and in natural quick speech normal is) omitted.
Structurally, there are two main kinds of relative clause:
(a) Defining, in which any relative pronoun can be used, or sometimes none at all
the woman who/whom/that I love
the woman I love
(b) Non-defining, where a wh-pronoun must normally be used, commas must be inserted either side of the clause in writing, and the voice drops to a lower flat tone in speech.
The increase in production, which was carefully planned, has helped grow the economy.
Another version of non-defining relative clause is the sentential relative clause. This refers back to a part or the whole of the previous clause. It is normally linked by which:
The flight departed a little late. Which wasn't a big problem.
A subordinate clause (complex structure) is part of a sentence which depends on the another part of a sentence. It does not make sense on its own. For example, 'because she wanted me to do well' is a subordinate clause which must have a main clause added to it in order to make sense:
My mother pushed me hard at school, because she wanted me to do well.
Subordinate clauses are introduced by certain words and phrases. For example: if, because, although, as, before, since, whereas, in order that, provided (that), as long as, in case.
In contrast, it is possible to join main clauses with a simple and or but. These are useful words but we should not overuse them. In order to write or speak about topics in a sophisticated and interesting way we must use subordinate clauses. Take a look below at three different band descriptors for IELTS Writing Task 2 to see how not using subordinate clauses (complex structures) would limit you to no higher than a band 5.
Band 7: uses a variety of complex structures
Band 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
Band 5: uses only a limited range of structures. Attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
Two-part and three-part verbs (also called phrasal verbs or prepositional verbs) are very common in English. And in order to speak and write naturally and you must be comfortable using them.
Take off = remove
Look after = nurse, guard, protect, supervise
look down on = despise
Put up with = endure
Grammatically speaking the most important thing to know is whether they words can or cannot be separated by any another word. In some cases, for instance the first example below, the object can either come before or after the second word of the verb and pronouns must come between the two words of the verb. Take a look at the following 3 examples:
He took off his shirt
He took his shirt off
He took of it
He took it off
He looked after his grandmother
He look his grandmother after
He looked after her
He looked her after
She couldn't put up with the noise any longer
She couldn't put up the noise with any longer
She couldn't put up with it any longer
She couldn't put up it with any longer
The Band 7 speaking descriptor states the following for Lexical Resource: "uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices"
The best way to learn these is through lots of reading and listening. Reading in particular gives you the context the words appear in so that you know the right level of formality involved but it also gives you time to stop and look at the word order to check whether they are separable or not.
These are nouns which have no plural form and therefore cannot be counted. For example, water, rice, news, information, love.
What distinguishes uncountable nouns from other nouns in grammatical terms is the following:
they can be used without determiners or articles: Water is good for you
they have certain determiners which can only be used with them: There's not much butter left.
they, naturally, take singular forms of the verb: Further information is available.
Uncountable nouns often refer to substances (coffee, sand, marble) abstract qualities and states (hate, poverty, wind, independence).
One important thing for IELTS candidates to watch out for is uncountable English words which might be countable in the candidates first language (information, luggage): *
There are a lot of informations.
A very common issue which limits many candidates taking the IELTS test to a band 5.5 or lower is making errors with verb agreement. Verbs need to agree in number and tense with their subjects. Examples of a typical error are:
1 Production have increased over the past 5 years
As production is an uncountable noun it is grammatically singular and so the verb should also be singular the has
2 My friend said he will help me
As said is in the past so will must also change to the 'past' and become would
In the IELTS speaking test avoiding these mistakes is difficult due to the time pressure of face-to-face communication. However, in the writing test you should set aside 5 minutes at the end to check your work carefully, and you should include scanning for verb agreement high on your list of priorities. Finding and correcting these types of error can make the difference in getting the band score you need.
The word would is used for many different reasons in English. Some commons ones are to talk about (1) conditional events, (2) regular, repeated events in the past and (3) report 'future actions in the past'.
Here is an example of a conditional use which often comes up in the IELTS Exam. In Part 1 of the Speaking Test the last question on a particular topic is often a conditional, for example:
Would you spend a lot of money on a cup of coffee?
Be prepared! The pronunciation of 'would you' when said rapidly is /wədʒə/ or /wədʒu/ and this is something that is often missed by candidates. The native-speaker's typical response to a question like this is to start with the short form:
Yes, I would. Because…
I don't think I would. Because…
Using the short form before giving your answer will improve your score.
When talking about regular habits in the past would is a substitute for used to. This is particularly useful in Part 2 of the Speaking Test when you have to describe an event from your life.
We used to drive into town together every Saturday morning. First, we would stop for a coffee…
Also in Part 2 of the Speaking Test you might need to talk about an action which was in the future at the time of the events you are describing. In this case is/are going to becomes was/were going to and will becomes would:
He said he would meet me after the film finished.
If you are aiming at band 6 and above, you must be comfortable using would in similar situations to the ones described above.
Extreme adjectives are stronger than normal adjectives. For example boiling has a stronger meaning than very hot. Therefore these words can be very useful when you are trying to describe interesting or emotional (pleasant or unpleasant) things and events. Here are some more:
Freezing - very cold
Huge - very big
Furious - very angry
Filthy - very dirty
Spotless - very clean
Furious - very angry
Exhausted - very tired
Packed - very crowded
Ancient - very old
If we want to emphasise extreme adjectives further, it is not normally to use the words extremely or very because extreme adjectives already contain the ideas of 'extremely' and 'very' (
extremely boiling; very boiling). Instead we can use absolutely or utterly or really (absolutely furious = very, very angry).
These are questions for which there is a binary answer - yes/no. At first glance they seem straightforward. However, as it is important to note that English tends to use more than just the word yes or no, and instead adds an auxiliary verb (be/have/do/will/would/other modal verbs) as well.
Are you a student? Yes, I am.
Have you studied English for long? - Yes, I have.
Do you study a lot? Yes, I do.
Would you like to study abroad? No, I wouldn't.
Even when we go on to answer a yes-no question at more length, we still normally start with the short version first:
Do you like going to the cinema? - Yes, I do. I like it a lot, especially when I've got some time off work.
Making sure you incorporate this into your answers during the IELTS Speaking Test part 1 will make you sound more native-like.
Another thing to watch out for in part 1 of the IELTS Speaking Test is yes-no questions starting with would. These often catch candidates out, partly because when said at normal speed the pronunciation can be unfamiliar for those unused to interacting with native speakers:
Would you /wʊdʒə/ like to work abroad in the future? [Sounds like 'wudcha' or 'wudchu']
The term zero (Ø) is used by linguists to talk about the absence of a language feature - a grammatical 'space' or 'gap'. For example, in the following sentence She said she'd help me the word that has been removed (She said that she'd help me).
These grammatical 'spaces' and 'gaps' occur across various parts of the language system.
Regular English plurals take an 's' ending (e.g. a car, two cars), but some irregular ones are missing the 's': one sheep, two sheepØ.
Used with uncountable and plural countable nouns to indicate indefiniteness: I like cheese; He visits castles (I like Ø cheese; He visits Ø castles).
Often occurs with plural nouns words which already has an 's' ending: the competitors' mistakes.
This is where the conjunction 'that' is omitted from a clause: She said she wasn't hungry or Here's the book I was telling you about (e.g. She said that she wasn't hungry; Here's the book that I was telling you about).