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Essential grammar rules to know for your IELTS test

1-Essential grammar rules to know for your IELTS test - SEA

As you prepare for the IELTS test and seek to sharpen your command of English, you will realise that at the centre of it all, is mastering grammar. It is the foundation that defines your proficiency in all four IELTS components – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.

In this article, we’ll navigate through essential grammar rules with tips and insights to refine your language skills for the IELTS test.

1. Understanding sentence structure

Mastering sentence structure is crucial for a strong performance in the IELTS test. Learn to grasp the nuances of subject-verb agreement, the correct use of tenses, and the appropriate use of active and passive voice to significantly enhance your clarity and coherence in English.

Subject-verb agreement

One of the most basic principles of English grammar is ensuring the subject and verb in a sentence agree in number. This means a singular subject takes a singular verb, while a plural subject takes a plural verb. For instance, "The cat runs fast" demonstrates singular agreement, whereas "The cats run fast" exemplifies plural agreement. Errors in subject-verb agreement are common but with careful attention, you can avoid them and improve your grammatical accuracy.

Use of tenses

Tenses signal the time of an action in a sentence, and are essential in coherent storytelling and description. It's common to see mistakes such as incorrect tense usage or inconsistent tense application within a text. For example, the sentence "Last year, I am visiting London and I saw many interesting places." incorrectly uses the present tense to describe an action that occurred in the past. It creates confusion about when the action took place.

Instead, the sentence should be written as "Last year, I visited London and saw many interesting places." This correctly uses the past tense to describe actions that occurred in the past, making it clear and coherent. As such, it is important to understand when to employ past, present, or future tenses appropriately for the different IELTS task components in order to achieve a high score in the IELTS test.

Active vs passive voice

Choosing between active and passive voice can greatly impact the precision of your sentences. The active voice, where the subject performs the action, lends directness and dynamism, as in 'The committee approved the new policy.’ Conversely, the passive voice, which highlights the action itself or the object of the action, can be useful in formal or academic writing, for instance, 'The new policy was approved by the committee.' Understanding when to utilise each voice effectively is key to clear and effective communication, a crucial skill for the IELTS test.

2. Mastering punctuation

Punctuation marks are like road signs for readers; they guide the flow and clarity of written language.

The use of commas

Commas not only separate items in a list but also clarify the structure of complex sentences. Misuse of commas can lead to misinterpretation or ambiguity in your sentence’s meaning. For instance, the comma in “Let’s eat, Grandma” suggests an invitation for Grandma to eat, whereas leaving out the comma in “Let’s eat Grandma” alarmingly changes the meaning.

Apostrophes in contractions and possessives

Apostrophes are small yet mighty punctuation marks with two primary functions: indicating possession and forming contractions. They show ownership as in “John’s book” (the book belonging to John) and are used in contractions to represent missing letters, like “don’t” for “do not”. A common error in English grammar is misusing apostrophes for plurals – don’t make this mistake! Remember, they’re not used to pluralise nouns but to denote possession or contractions.

Semicolon usage

Semicolons are often underutilised but can effectively link closely related ideas or clauses in a sentence. They are used where a period is too strong and a comma is too weak. For instance, “She loves reading; books are her escape” uses a semicolon to connect two related thoughts. Mastering semicolon usage can add sophistication to your writing in the IELTS test, enhancing the coherence and flow of your ideas.

3. Modifiers and clause placement

Effective communication in English hinges on the precise placement of modifiers and clauses. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that adds detail or describes another element in a sentence. For example, in 'The student carefully proofread her draft,' the word 'carefully' is a modifier describing how the proofreading was conducted.

A clause, on the other hand, is a group of words containing a subject and a verb that form a part of a sentence. For instance, in 'When the bell rings, the students leave’, the clause is 'When the bell rings', which sets the context for the main action. In the IELTS test, demonstrating your ability to use modifiers and clauses correctly can significantly improve the accuracy of your responses.

Avoiding dangling modifiers

A common pitfall in English grammar is the use of dangling modifiers. These occur when a descriptive phrase does not logically connect to the noun it's intended to modify, creating confusion. For instance, in “Running rapidly, the finish line seemed never-ending,” the modifier “Running rapidly” inaccurately describes the finish line. It should be rephrased to “Running rapidly, the runner felt the finish line seemed never-ending,” where the modifier correctly describes the subject – the runner.

Proper placement of relative clauses

Relative clauses, which provide additional information about a noun, need to be placed correctly to maintain sentence clarity. Incorrect placement can lead to ambiguity, making it unclear what the clause is referring to. Take the sentence, “I read the book yesterday, which was interesting.” The placement of the relative clause “which was interesting” makes it ambiguous whether the book or the day was interesting. A clearer structure would be “Yesterday, I read the book, which was interesting,” ensuring the clause clearly modifies “the book.”

Appropriate adjective and adverb use

Adjectives and adverbs are crucial in adding detail and meaning to sentences, but misusing them can lead to confusion or change the intended message. Adjectives modify nouns and should be placed as close as possible to the nouns they describe. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

Consider the sentences:

  • 'The student wrote her essay extremely quickly.'

  • 'The extremely quick student wrote her essay.'

In the first sentence, 'extremely' is an adverb modifying another adverb 'quickly,' which in turn modifies the verb 'wrote.' This sentence suggests that the writing process was done at a fast pace.

In the second sentence, 'extremely' and 'quick' are used as adjectives to describe the noun 'student,' indicating that the student herself is quick. This subtle shift in placement changes the meaning entirely. Hence, it’s important to discern when to use adjectives versus adverbs in sentences and ensure they align with the words they modify to convey your intended meaning accurately.

4. Consistency in writing

In the IELTS test, demonstrating consistency in writing and speaking not only showcases your command of the language but also ensures clarity in your communication. Let’s take a look at how you can maintain consistency.

Parallel structure

Parallel structure, also known as parallelism, is the practice of using the same grammatical form for similar elements within a sentence. This technique enhances readability and adds symmetry to your writing. A common mistake is mixing different grammatical forms, as seen in “He enjoys running, swimming, and to bike.” To maintain parallelism, this should be corrected to “He enjoys running, swimming, and biking.” Consistent grammatical patterns in lists or series provide clearness and rhythm to your writing, an aspect that is highly valued in the IELTS test.

Consistency in tense and person

One of the critical aspects of coherent writing and speaking is maintaining a consistent tense and narrative perspective throughout your response. Inconsistencies in tense and person can confuse the reader or listener and detract from the effectiveness of your communication.

For instance, in a narrative starting with "I walked (past tense) down the street yesterday. I see (present tense) a beautiful bird”, the sudden shift from past to present tense disrupts the flow of the story.

Similarly, mixing narratives, such as "I (first person) went to the store, and then you (second person) bought some apples”, can create ambiguity. Therefore, carefully considering your choice of tense and narrative perspective, and applying them consistently when needed, is crucial for your IELTS test responses.

Avoiding redundancy

Redundancy in language usage can undermine the impact of your writing by introducing unnecessary repetition and wordiness. Effective communication, particularly in the IELTS test, requires conveying ideas concisely and precisely.

Identify and remove redundant phrases or words that do not add value to your sentences. For example, saying "advance planning" is redundant because planning, by definition, is done in advance. Eliminating such redundancies helps you craft clear, direct, and impactful responses, a skill that can significantly boost your IELTS score.

Common mistakes and how to avoid them

2-Essential grammar rules to know for your IELTS test - SEA

To excel in the IELTS test, it's important to pinpoint and avoid common grammatical errors. This section focuses on some typical mistakes encountered in English grammar, providing strategies to avoid them and improve your language proficiency.

Double negatives

The use of double negatives in a sentence often leads to confusion and a meaning that's contrary to what's intended. In English, two negative words in the same sentence can turn the statement into a positive one. For example, saying “I don’t need no help” actually suggests that you do need help due to the use of two negatives ("don’t" and "no"). To convey your message clearly, it's important to use only one negative form. Understanding this aspect of English grammar is vital for accurately expressing your thoughts in the IELTS test.

Split infinitives

The rule against splitting infinitives – inserting an adverb between “to” and the verb – has relaxed in modern English. While traditional grammar rules advised against it, split infinitives are now widely accepted for stylistic reasons or to add clarity. A famous example is the phrase “to boldly go,” which is as acceptable as the more traditionally correct “to go boldly.” In your IELTS preparation, understanding how and when to use split infinitives can add variety and nuance to your English usage.

Misusing homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. A common error in English is using "their" (possessive form), "there" (location), and "they’re" (contraction of "they are") interchangeably. Paying attention to the context and meaning of these words is crucial. By mastering homophones, you not only enhance the accuracy of your writing but also reflect a higher level of English proficiency.

Elevate your IELTS score with IDP

Mastering grammar is a crucial step towards achieving your desired IELTS band score. IDP offers comprehensive resources to help you refine your English skills, including access to extensive IELTS preparation materials online and free IELTS online tests. To enhance your learning experience, consider enrolling in specialised IELTS preparation courses or classes. These resources are designed to help you build a solid foundation in basic English grammar and advanced grammatical concepts, essential for excelling in the IELTS test. Access them at any time by downloading the IELTS by IDP app.

IELTS, recognised as the world’s premier English proficiency test, is accepted by over 12,000 organisations and institutions globally. When you choose to book your IELTS test with IDP, you gain access to exclusive benefits like virtual writing workshops and a comprehensive IELTS preparation guide. These advantages ensure that you're not only prepared but also confident in your ability to achieve an exceptional band score. Exceeding your IELTS goals opens a world of academic and professional opportunities. Begin your journey towards realising your dreams and book your IELTS test with IDP today.