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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.

Three little wishes

Using wish in your IELTS exam

Ricardo came to me after his IELTS exam and explained that he suddenly understood the value of actually using new language before the exam. He told me that he had sometimes been “bored” during my classes when I made the students focus on a point of grammar and use it, even though he felt he already really understood it. Actually being in the IELTS interview brought home to him the value of practice and that the time to experiment is not during the actual exam. Basically, Ricardo had tried to use wish and realised that he wasn’t sure which form to use to say what he wanted to say. We had covered wish quite extensively in class and Ricardo admitted that he had “switched off” a little during practice.

“I really thought that I understood the grammar and would be able to use it when I needed it. I know now that I should have practised more so that I was used to actually using the language.”

Ricardo is a good student but he sometimes is guilty of wanting to move on too quickly. He now understands the need to practice and use all new language. I am sure his mistake (if he really did make one) won’t affect his final IELTS grade too much.

Here’s a refresher in wish for Ricardo. Other IELTS candidates might find it useful too.

wish + past simple (or continuous)

I wish I were taller.
Sam wishes he lived closer to his mother.

This wish expresses an unrealistic desire for the present to be different. Something might change in the future but we want now to be different. We accept that we can’t change what is true right now. Just becaus e the past is in this construction doesn’t mean it is about the past. This is an example of an unreal past tense in English. Notice that I is followed by were in the example. This might seem strange but it is correct. It is also possible to use was instead. The same rule applies to he, she and it.

I wish I were better at arithmetic.
I wish I was better at arithmetic.
He wishes he were a faster runner.
He wishes he was a faster runner.

wish + past perfect simple

I wish I had studied harder at university.
Jayne wishes she hadn’t eaten so many cakes. She feels sick now.

This wish expresses an impossible desire for the past to be different. We accept that we can’t change the past. We just look back at past actions, often with regret, and wish they were different. We can’t travel back in time to change past actions (unless we are Marty McFly in Back to the Future.)

wish + would

I wish you would stop taking my pens.
He wishes it would stop raining.

In this wish, we want there to be a change, either now or in the future. We hope that the change might happen and it is a possibility. The change depends on an outside force and not on the actions of the person making the wish. We never use this form with I because you can make changes yourself.

We don’t say :

I wish I would study harder.

You can make the decision to study harder if you want to.

In many cases, wish used this way expresses irritation on the part of the speaker.

I wish he would stop talking. He’s giving me a headache.

In Ricardo’s case, he was talking about his education and education in his country. He felt that he hadn’t been pushed enough in his English studies. What he should have said (and I hope he did say!!) is:

I wish they had made me work harder in English at school.

Go back to all of the example sentences above and make sure that you can see why they are appropriate for each situation (you might need to read the grammar explanation again.)

It seems as though it has been raining here in England for months. Actually, it has been raining for months. It’s supposed to be summer!! Grrrrrr! I could say any of the following sentences in relation to the rain. Can you see why they all mean something different but they are all correct?

I wish it wasn’t raining.

I wish it hadn’t started raining.

I wish it would stop raining.

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Dictation listening exercise for IELTS

Sometimes, it is good listening practice to listen to someone speaking and try to write down exactly what is said. You have to focus on both meaning and the individual words:if you don’t write down all of the words correctly, then you haven’t understood everything. (more…)

Top 20 misspelt words in English

It’s always interesting to read the results of studies relating to language. The Telegraph, an English newspaper, recently reported on a study of the most commonly misspelt words in English. The top twenty misspelt words creates an interesting list – many of the words are words that an IELTS student might use in their writing. Do you think you would be able to remember how to spell all of the words in the list correctly?

Top 20 misspelt words:

1. Separate

2. Definitely

3. Manoeuvre

4. Embarrass

5. Occurrence

6. Consensus

7. Unnecessary

8. Acceptable

9. Broccoli

10. Referred

11. Bureaucracy

12. Supersede

13. Questionnaire

14. Connoisseur

15. A lot

16. Entrepreneur

17. Particularly

18. Liquify

19. Conscience

20. Parallel

You can read the full article here. Make sure that you read through the comments at the end of the article. Some of the commenters make interesting points.

Position of adverbs

He ate quickly his breakfast.

Can you identify the adverb in the above sentence? I am sure that you know it is quickly but can you see what is wrong with the sentence? Out of a class of 14 advanced students, 5 made this mistake yesterday. That’s right!! 5. Five. FIVE. Clearly, the adverb is in the wrong place and these advanced students should have known this. They are all capable of scoring an overall IELTS band score of at least 7 but 5 of them still made this basic mistake. Do you know where the adverb should be in the sentence? More importantly, do you know why it must go there? (more…)