Who are ‘they’?

English should be taught from an early age. English is highly valued when pursuing study abroad, getting a job, and connecting business people all over the world. They use English, furthermore, in their activities, such as education, business, politics, travel, and others.

The IELTS examiner will be wondering who they refers to. In IELTS terms, the plural they and the singular it refer to or act as substitutes for the subject of the previous sentence. Referencing and substitution is something that the IELTS examiner is evaluating in your writing, so it pays to use it correctly.

Let’s investigate what this writer is trying to say:

  • English use English, furthermore in English’s activities..

No, that cannot be what the writer means! Perhaps the writer is using they – incorrectly – as a substitute for business people? OK let’s try that..

  • Business people use English, furthermore, in their activities, such as education..

Huh?! Education? Business people? That doesn’t sound right, either!

If they really does refer to a group of people, then you need to mention that group explicitly, as a subject – before the verb:

  1. English should be taught from an early age. People value English when pursuing study abroad, getting a job, and conducting business all over the world. They use English, furthermore, in their activities, such as education, business, politics, travel, and others.

(They is a substitute for (or refers back to) People.)

  1. English should be taught from an early age. It is valuable when pursuing study abroad, getting a job, and conducting business all over the world. It is used, furthermore, in various activities, such as education, business, politics, travel, and others.

(It is a substitute for (or refers back to) English.)

In IELTS terms, both of these texts are cohesive (sentences ‘stick’ together nicely) and are therefore coherent (easy to read and to understand)In your IELTS writing, try to establish clear connections between pronouns and subjects, otherwise your writing may become incoherent (meaningless)!

Many of the IELTS keywords used in this post can be seen in the IELTS public band descriptors for speaking and writing (Task 1, Task 2).

For other examples of how referencing and substitution can go wrong, see here and here.

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