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confusing words

Formal and informal language for IELTS

Contractions in the IELTS exam

In the IELTS Academic writing module, avoid using contractions. Contractions set a more informal tone to a piece of writing. It is fine to use contractions in the speaking module – in fact, not using contractions when speaking will make your English sound halting and a little forced.

The number of job applications hasn’t increased over the last ten years.

The number of job applications has not increased over the last ten years.
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grammar for IELTS : have to and don’t have to

Please please please read the following and try to use have to and don’t have to correctly. Have to and don’t have to are not opposites. They are related but they are not opposites. Many English language students make the mistake of thinking that, because mustn’t is the opposite of must, don’t have to is the opposite of have to. This is not the case!!

Look at these sentences and read the notes after them:

You must speak English in the IELTS exam.

In this sentence, must is an obligation to do something. You have no choice. It is a rule or law and cannot be broken.

You mustn’t speak your own language in the IELTS exam.

Mustn’t is an obligation not to do something. You have no choice. It is a rule or law and cannot be broken.

Have to is very different. make sure that you read the following and can understand the difference.

You have to speak English in the IELTS exam.

Have to is an obligation and its meaning is very similar to must. It is an obligation to do something. Must implies that you have the authority to make a rule or place an obligation on someone (including yourself.) Have to suggests that the rule was made by somebody else. In practice, this difference is very subjective. An IELTS examiner might say either of the following sentences:

You must speak English in the IELTS exam.

Here the examiner is the rule maker. The examiner is the authority.

You have to speak English in the IELTS exam.

Here the examiner is referring to the rule set by the examining body.

In effect, the two sentences mean the same thing and would have the same desired effect.

When we use don’t have to in a sentence, the meaning of have to changes.

You don’t have to wear a suit in your IELTS exam.

Don’t have to tell us that it is not necessary for you to do something but you can, of course, do it if you wish. It is permission not to do something. If you wear a suit, there will be no negative consequences. If you don’t wear a suit, there will also be no negative consequences. It is the opposite of can, a modal which gives permission to do something. It is similar in meaning to don’t need to/needn’t.

Here’s a summary of what we’ve just looked at:

obligation permission
to do things must
have to
can
allowed to
not to do things mustn’t
not allowed to
don’t have to
don’t need to
needn’t

Notice that not allowed to and allowed to are not really opposites of each other.

You are allowed to smoke in here.

This means that if you wish to smoke you can. You aren’t obliged to smoke.

You are not allowed to smoke in here

This means that smoking is prohibited and if you do so, there will probably be consequences.

speed limit 50

Look at this sign. I am sure you have seen something similar on the roads in your country. Can you make some sentences about it using the words in the table above? Try to use words from all of the boxes in the table if you can.

Here are some example sentences:

You must drive slower than 50 mph.
You mustn’t drive faster than 50 mph.
You can drive at speeds of up to 50 mph.
You don’t have to worry about the police if you are driving under 50 mph.

Can you say what these signs mean? Try to use words from more than one box in the table.

The IELTS exam is quite difficult

Be careful when you are using the adverb quite. You can change the meaning of a sentence by putting the main stress on this adverb.

Imagine someone has just cooked dinner for you and they ask you what you think of the food. This is your reply:

It’s quite nice.

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Why are words so confusing? The answers.

If you read this post, you probably have already thought about the incorrect sentences given and know which words are incorrectly used. Here are the sentences again with an explanation of what is wrong after them.

1. Strong coffee doesn’t effect me at all.
Effect is a noun but in this sentence, the auxiliary (do) precedes it so a verb is needed. Affect is the verb which is often confused with the noun effect.
Strong coffee doesn’t affect me. subject + auxiliary + verb
Strong coffee has no effect on me. to have an effect on something.

2. There are strong economical arguments for having high taxation at the moment.
Economical is an adjective that means something gives good value or return in relation to the money spent or resources used. It also means something does not use many resources or much money.
e.g. My car is quite economical. Its doesn’t use much fuel.
Economic is an adjective which relates to the economy or the study of economics. In our sentence above, the context suggests we are talking about the economy (high taxation) so economic would be the correct adjective to use here.

3. He was so busy to do his homework.
So is often incorrectly used instead of too. To make this sentence work, so busy needs to be followed by that+clause e.g. He was so busy that he couldn’t do his homework. Too+adjective is followed by the full infinitive e.g. He was too busy to do his homework.

There is a difference between these two sentences:
It is so hot.
It is too hot.

so hot : this suggests it is very hot
too hot: this suggests that the heat is excessive

4. Do you think there is an opportunity of life on Mars?
Opportunity suggests that something is possible because the circumstances are good or right for something to happen e.g. The party was a great opportunity to meet new people. The opportunity to meet people is there because you are at the party.
Possibilitysuggests that something might be true or might happen. It is often followed by of or that e.g. Do you think there is a possibility of life on Mars?

5. I was standing besides the IELTS examiner.
Besides means in addition toe.g. Where are you going besides the cinema?
Beside means next to e.g. I was standing beside the IELTS examiner.

When you find a word that you mistake for another, make sure you look it up in a dictionary or on Google. Try to use the word in a piece of writing or when you are speaking. We can only learn how to use a word correctly if we try using it!

Why are words so confusing?

Read the following sentences. Can you work out what is wrong with them? Perhaps you can easily spot the errors and correct them but are you able to explain what the errors are? Giving this kind of explanation is good language practice : you have to be very precise and clear so that there is no doubt that you understand what the problem is.

My English teacher gave me lots of good advise about the IELTS exam.

Here’s how you would explain the error. Notice the level of detail in the explanation:

Advise is a verb (to advise someone to do something = verb + object + infinitive) but a noun is needed in this sentence. We know this because advise is preceded by an adjective (good) so an adjective+noun combination is needed. This is an example of a confusing word : a word which has a similar meaning to another word but is used in a different way, is related to another word but has a different meaning or one which looks similar to another word but has a different meaning. The noun needed in this sentence is advice.

Advise is used in this way –

Our English teacher advised us to have an early night before the IELTS exam.

Can you give a complete explanation of why the following sentences are wrong?

1. Strong coffee doesn’t effect me at all.
2. There are strong economical arguments for having high taxation at the moment.
3. He was so busy to do his homework.
4. Do you think there is an opportunity of life on Mars?
5. I was standing besides the IELTS examiner.

Think about your explanations. Do they make the errors clear? Have you given good examples of how to use the word used incorrectly? make sure that you note down these confusing words and try to use them correctly in your speaking and your writing.

Why not post your explanations in the comments box? Other users can check them and decide if they are correct or not. Full explanations are here.

There is plenty of material in this book to help you to improve your vocabulary for the IELTS exam. It covers the main vocabulary areas that you need for the IELTS exam.

Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS includes useful tips on how to approach the IELTS exam tasks and covers especially tricky areas such as the language needed to describe data and processes.