25% of your marks in the writing and speaking tests come from using appropriate grammar structures that are error free. Unfortunately, when learning a new language people often make frequent grammar mistakes. In fact, if more than 50% of your sentences have any errors in them, you will not get more than band 6 for grammatical range and accuracy. In other words, to score 7 or higher, you should try to make more than half of your sentences completely error free.
After marking thousands of IELTS tests I have noticed that the same errors are made again and again. Below are the top 10 mistakes and some advice on how to avoid them.
Most people make all or some of these mistakes in their writing and speaking tests. A good thing to do is show some of your practice tests to a teacher or native speaker and establish your common errors. When you are aware of your common grammar errors you can easily fix them with practice and raise your score.
- Use of the word ‘the’
We use the:
- when there is only one of something in a particular area: the government, the police, the bridge, the river, the hospital
- when there is only one in the entire world: the internet, the environment, the ozone layer, the atmosphere
- with cardinal numbers: the first, the second, the third
- with superlatives: the worst, the shortest, the lowest, the most beautiful, the least impressive
- with places where the name refers to a group of islands or states: the USA, the UK, the Maldives, the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates
- before nouns which describe general things: exercise is good for the body, the motorbike is the most common form of transport in Asia, the role of the teacher has changed in recent years
- before abstract nouns used to describe a situation, process, quality or a change: over the years the development of the town accelerated, the frequency of violent crime decreased over the period, the improvement in living standards
We don’t use the:
- to talk generally we drop the word ‘the’ and use the plural: dogs don’t like cats, people with dyslexia have reading problems, Japanese cars are very reliable, German products are very high quality.
- with a single place or country: Ireland, China, Vietnam, Europe, South America
- Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Some nouns in English are uncountable and will therefore always be in the singular form and never plural. Some common nouns that students often get wrong in the IELTS test are:
If a noun is uncountable you cannot use:
- a plural verb: There were many traffic in the city.
- a number: three advice, four food
- a few, a couple, many, a number of: a number of literature, a few research
- a/an: a happiness, an entertainment
- Noun-Verb Agreement
The verb must agree with the noun. If you use a plural noun, you must use a plural verb and vice versa.
There is some dogs outside.
There is some food in the kitchen.
Here are some homework for you.
There are some eggs in the kitchen.
- –ing or to + infinitive
We use to + infinitive verb after the following verbs: learn how, would like, want, seem, refuse, promise, prepare, offer, learn, hope, help, deserve, decide, afford, and ask.
It is important to learn how to speak English
Most people cannot afford to go on holiday every year.
I would like to study overseas.
Note: ‘like’ can be followed by –ing or to + infinitive.
We use verb–ing after the following verbs: suggest, recommend, practice, mind, keep, involve, imagine, give up, finish, enjoy, deny, consider, carry on, and avoid.
I would recommend checking your writing for mistakes.
You should avoid drinking coffee after 6 pm.
I’ve finished writing my essay.
- Use Of Articles Before Noun Phrases
You should include a/an before adjective singular noun combinations: a massive improvement, a steady increase, an overall majority, a very small percentage, a really strong argument.
Some exceptions include the word ‘of’ after the noun phrase: a wide range of, an equal number of, a large/small number of, a small/large/equal proportion of.
Exceptions: quite a few people, to a certain extent/degree
- Use of Commas
In the IELTS writing test, we often use phrases called ‘discourse markers’ or ‘liking phrases’ to link our ideas together, such as on the one hand, on the other hand, however, for example, nevertheless, firstly, secondly, in conclusion, in summary.
We normally use a comma after a discourse marker that introduces a sentence:
- Firstly, the main cause of pollution is motor vehicles.
- On the one hand, motor vehicles are said to be the main cause.
- However, pollution from industry may also be to blame.
- To sum up, the causes of pollution are mostly man-made.
We also use commas on either side of discourse markers in the middle of sentences:
- Fossil fuels are mostly to blame for global warming, however, some people believe this is a natural process.
- Fossil fuels are mostly to blame for global warming, for example, from cars and factories.
- Verb Tenses
Always consider which of the following tense you should use:
- Present simple:
- things that are always true (the sky is blue)
- general statements of fact (I was born in 1982)
- habits (I go to sleep every night at 11 pm)
- Present continuous:
- an action at the moment of speaking
- something in progress this week, month or year
- to talk about a future planned event
- Present Perfect:
- an action that took place at an indefinite time in the past
- an action that was repeated before now
- an action that began in the past and continues until now
- Present Perfect Continuous:
- to show the duration of something that happened in the past and continues until now
- a general activity in progress recently
- Past Simple
- an action that began in the past and finished in the past
- Past Continuous
- talk about an action that was happening in the past when another occurred
- an action that was in progress at a specific time in the past
- Past Perfect
- talk about something that was completed before another activity or another time in the past
- Past Perfect Continuous
- talk about duration of activity that was in progress before another event in the past
- an activity in progress that is recent to another time or activity in the past
- Future Simple
- to predict or plan for the future
- to express a willingness to do something
- Future Continuous
- an action that will be in progress at a time in the future
- Future Perfect
- an action that will be completed before another time or event in the future
- Future Perfect Continuous
- the duration of an action that will be in progress before another time or event in the future
- Prepositions After Adjectives and Nouns
Students often get confused about which prepositions to use after adjectives and nouns. Here are some common expressions:
- Bad at (something)
- Good at (something)
- Surprised at (something)
About or with:
- Pleased about (something)
- Pleased with (someone)
- Angry about (something)
- Angry with (someone)
- Disappointed about (something)
- Disappointed with (someone)
- Worried about (something or someone)
- rise in
- decrease in
- increase in
- fall in
- drop in
- difference between
- advantage/disadvantage of
- example of
- number of
- percentage of
- use of
We use apostrophes to shorten words or make contractions:
- Do not- Don’t
- I will- I’ll
Contractions are normally used in spoken English and should therefore not be used in the academic writing tasks.
We can also use apostrophes to show possession:
- John’s book
- Mary’s brother
We don’t use apostrophes with possessive pronouns such as:
- The dog has broken its
- The book is not theirs it’s ours.
- Common Spelling Mistakes
Some common spelling mistakes:
- to or too
- there or their
- though or through
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