Searching for missing nouns

Living far away from home improves their ability in money managing, since their parents may not support their financial.

First of all, congratulations to this student for use of the word ‘since’. Perhaps she read my previous post dealing with because, since and as?

Unfortunately the use of ‘financial’ here lacks coherence because the Indonesian version of ‘financial’ – finansial – is used informally as a noun, whereas in English it is always an adjective. The reader is left wondering.. financial what?

The following alternatives use different word forms and also include strong collocation:

  • ..their parents may not cover their financial commitments. (adjective affects and collocates with commitments)
  • ..their parents may not support them financially(adverb affects and collocates with support)
  • ..their parents may not cover their finances(noun collocates with cover)

The only other example I can think of in which an imported adjective is used as a noun, might be:

  • Taking drugs is not good for your mental.

..which should read:

  • Taking drugs is not good for your mental health.

If you can think of any other words that get lost in translation in the same way, please comment below this post!

College or Colleges

Taking a gap year gives certain advantages to young people before attending colleges.

Yet another of those dreaded words that have slightly different meanings in their countable and uncountable forms.

1. College, countable

If you attend colleges, then..

  • you attend more than one college in more than one location, either sequentially or at the same time.
  • possibly you keep changing your mind about what you want to study?
  • possibly you are never satisfied with the college you happen to be attending?
  • possibly you are super human!

2. College, uncountable

If you attend college, then..

  • you are enrolled on a course of study.
  • your course lasts for a fixed period of time.
  • you probably study on the same campus every day.
  • when you finish your course, you hope to receive some kind of qualification.

Perhaps it’s best to think of attend college, or go to college as phrasal verbs that carry all of these meanings. All of the above also applies to the word ‘university’.

Since A is true, B is true

Since young people want to be considered independent humans. They try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

This student is experimenting with alternatives for because but has found herself in hot water. There are two possible improvements:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent humans, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.
    [since + cause sentence + comma + effect sentence]
  • Young people try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well, since they want to be considered independent humans.
    [effect sentence + comma + since + cause sentence]

In both of these examples, since is indeed an exact synonym for because, and so is as. However, as and since are more likely to appear at the beginning of a sentence, whereas because is more common after a comma:

because since as
after comma beginning of sentence beginning of sentence

Returning to our opening example, we could also get rid of the word humans since it is clear we’re not talking about aliens or rocks:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

Indonesian flag The over-use of the word human may be cultural. See here, here and here.

Opinion in IELTS Task 2 Introductions

Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, many people claim that taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

If you want a good score for Task Response in IELTS writing (IELTS Writing Task 2 band descriptors) then you need to make sure your opinion is clear in every paragraph – including your introduction.

Most of the time in academic writing we try to make our own opinions look strong and other people’s appear weak. We can achieve this in 3 ways:

1. Positioning

Position other people’s ideas before your own and add a contrasting signal to show that your own idea is coming next.

In our opening example, our writer uses effective positioning, beginning with someone else’s idea before giving us her own, and she uses a contrasting signal – however – to confirm that it’s her idea next.

2. Evaluative language

Use negative evaluative language to talk about other people’s ideas and positive evaluative language to talk about yours.

Our writer does not use particularly negative language to describe opposite opinion, but that’s OK – she has already put opposite opinion in ‘weak’ position. She then strengthens her own idea with an extremely positive evaluative adjective – beneficial.

3. Problematising

When introducing other people’s ideas, use problematising phrases to show that there might be something wrong with their ideas.

Our writer uses a problematising phrase – some people argue that – to introduce opposite opinion and make it appear weak. Great! But then..

sinking ship
..she uses another problematising phrase – many people claim that – to introduce her own idea!? This is supposed to be your opinion, not many people’s!


If we take out that second – confusing – problematising phrase, then we’re left with a nice introduction to this argument about gap years. The writer’s opinion is now obvious, and the reader can look forward to some supporting arguments in the following body paragraphs.

  • Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

Global warming cause effect

Climate change is a depressing topic, but it provides us with a rich source of cause effect language that we can borrow and use in our IELTS speaking and writing.

Some world leaders continue to deny that human activity is to blame for global warming, but the following text argues that humans are in fact largely responsible.

The text features some quite sophisticated cause effect signals. Try the gapfill and be sure to review alternative answers mentioned in the answer key (available after submitting answers). Continue reading

Cementing ideas with ‘it’ and ‘this’

A good way to avoid repetition in writing, and at the same time to cement (= stick) sentences together so that ideas flow smoothly, is to use what’s called referencing and substitution (many examples of referencing and substitution in previous posts).

In this post we focus again on using it and this as substitutes for themes and rhemes. If you’re not sure what is meant by theme and rheme, please read this before trying the activity below. Continue reading

I love the culinary

First of all I love the culinary.

Here an Indonesian IELTS candidate has made a positive claim about a place he or she likes, and is supporting that claim with another positive comment about the food there. This candidate perhaps feels that food is not a particularly ‘high-band’ word, and is experimenting with a more sophisticated synonym.

Indonesian flag The word culinary has been imported from English into Indonesian, but it has changed slightly in the process. Whereas in Indonesian kuliner can be used either as an adjective or a noun, the English culinary can only be used as an adjective. And so straight away the candidate has produced a word form error.

If you want a high-band synonym for ‘food’, you might try:

  • First of all I love the cuisine.

But be careful! Cuisine (a word borrowed from French!) is used in English to refer to the kind of food preparation you might expect in an expensive restaurant, or the kind of cooking that wins prizes in competitions. On the other hand if you’re talking about the kind of food that ordinary people eat in a particular country, day-to-day, then you’re talking about their food:

  • First of all I love the food.

So what have we learned?

  1. Words borrowed from other languages can change in several ways:
  • form : culinarykuliner
  • meaning : special food only – all food
  • grammar : adjective – adj/noun
  1. Using synonyms in an attempt to appear more sophisticated can get you into trouble. Only do it if you’re confident that you have chosen a synonym that carries the right meaning and fits grammatically into a phrase or sentence.

Little equipment

You only need little equipment to play badminton.

This has two literal meanings, both of which seem odd:

  1. You only need small equipment to play badminton.
  2. You need not enough equipment to play badminton.

Clearly the writer did not intend either of these meanings. First of all there is obviously a standard size for badminton equipment, which is neither small nor large. Secondly, it would be impossible to play badminton without ‘enough’ equipment!

Little and a little have quite different meanings. Compare:

  1. Gosh I’m thirsty after that game! Do you have any water left?
  2. Yes, I still have a little. Here you are.
    [a little = not much, but enough]
  1. I wish we could play badminton more often!
  2. Yes, but because of my job I have little time.
    [little = not enough]

In the opening example, the writer is – I think – trying to say that playing badminton does not involve a lot of equipment:

  • You don’t need much equipment to play badminton.

In this case, not much means enough, and that’s good because it means that badminton is inexpensive compared to, say, photography, which generally involves a lot of expensive equipment and therefore a lot of spending!

Industrial theatre production(s)

Automation in industry means increased productivity and better productions.

Yet another word that has quite different meanings in its countable and uncountable forms!

In its countable form, production has strong associations with music and theatre:

  • Medieval theatre productions are still performed today.
  • 300 performances were given of 33 different opera productions.
  • The earliest sound effects were strictly studio productions.
  • Previous acclaimed productions include “Oklahoma!”
  • The building was used for massive concerts and theatrical productions.

It’s only when it’s in its uncountable form that production means manufacturing:

  • The highest production recorded was fifty thousand annually.
  • The company has 15 production plants worldwide.
  • By 1900 daily production was 2 thousand tons.
  • Even small scale “capitalist” production was suppressed.
  • The pellets production required increased freshwater access.

And so returning to our opening example, we need:

  • Automation in industry means increased productivity and better production.