Million or millions?

According to a recent census, there are 265 millions people living in Indonesia.

Yes, I know it seems right. But it isn’t. Only put an ‘s’ on million when million is the main noun in a noun phrase. Very often million is the main noun in a noun phrase when it is at the beginning of a sentence..

  • Millions of people live in Indonesia, a huge archipelago in south-east Asia.

..but not always. It might appear somewhere inside a sentence:

  • Indonesia spends millions of dollars every year subsidising fuel.

In the noun phrase millions of peoplemillions is the main noun, modified by of people. We know exactly which millions you’re talking about – not millions of bananas, for example! The same goes for millions of dollars (not millions of rupiah!).

When million is not the main noun, for example when it is modifying another noun, don’t add an ‘s’:

According to a recent census, there are 265 million people living in Indonesia.

In the noun phrase 265 million people living in Indonesia, the main noun is ‘people’. All of the other words in the phrase give us information about ‘people’ – how many, and where they live.

The same rule applies to hundred(s)thousand(s), etc.



Select words from the drop-down menus to complete the text. When you have finished, click 'Check your answers!' for feedback.

Last year of people around the world spent 2 dollars or more buying consumer goods. Of these goods, smartphones have become a dollar industry with of manufacturers in more than 3 countries. In the future this is likely to grow to many .

Task 1 Past Perfect

Past perfect tense needs to be handled with care. It is most useful in the narrative genre and is seldom needed in Task 2 writing. However, Task 1 essays occasionally present an opportunity to use past perfect.

Let’s try an exercise! Follow my instructions carefully and attempt the tasks before reading my sample texts.

  1. Look at the following graph and attempt to describe it in two short paragraphs. The first paragraph will focus on general trends and will begin:

In general..

The second paragraph will describe details and will begin:

In detail..

When you’re happy with your writing, you can read my sample text.

  1. Finished writing? OK now take a look at my sample text and analysis.






Sample text

In general, Facebook had by far the highest number of active users per month, and this number increased by more than 50% during the period. Despite having far fewer users per month, Twitter experienced a similar increase in numbers, but was overtaken half way through the period by Instagram.

In detail, Facebook already had a billion active users in 2012, but by 2015 this figure had increased to more than 1.5 billion. Twitter was in second place until 2014 when the monthly number of active Instagram users began to exceed that of Twitter users, and by 2015 Instagram had taken a 0.1 billion user lead over Twitter, forcing Twitter into third position. Similarly, by 2015 Snapchat had attracted only half as many active users per month as Instagram.


Notice the structural use of past perfect in the detail section. I admit that I went a bit mad with it, but I strongly recommend this structure:

By + past time expression + subject + V3

Final task

  1. Take another look at your own text. Did you use my past perfect structure? If not, can you edit your text so as to include it in at least one sentence? Please share your writing in the comments section!

Even though.. (but..)

Even the government has tried hard to control corruption, but bribery is still commonplace.

There are two problems here.

First of all ‘even’ at the beginning of a sentence is normally joined by ‘though’: even though (2 words!).

Indonesian flag The second problem is often experienced by Indonesians trying to translate meskipun..akan tetapi. In English there is no akan tetapi, so no but:

  • Even though the government has tried hard to control corruption, bribery is still commonplace.

Notice the position of the comma in this sentence and don’t forget to include it.

Have fun using even though!

The price is expensive (1)

Because of the recent increase in fuel prices, the price of food is more expensive than before.

Indonesian flag This is obviously a direct translation of harganya lebih mahal!

This is really a collocation problem. The IELTS examiner will understand what you mean, but you will not receive a good score for vocabulary. A product or service can be expensive, but the price of the product or service is either high or low.

More correct collocation is as follows:

  • Because of the recent increase in fuel prices, the price of food is higher than before.
  • Because of the recent increase in fuel prices, food is more expensive than before.

Meanwhile here’s a song illustrating some common collocations when talking about money.

Definite about puppies and sectors

Agricultural sector is different from economic sector in the way research is conducted.

In the noun phrases agricultural sector and economic sector, you mention specific sectors – agricultural and economic. It is obvious that you are not talking about the bananas sector and the pornography sector.

If you mention a noun and both you and your reader know exactly which noun you’re talking about, then you must use the definite article – ‘the’.

In the photo that accompanies this post, there are two puppies. If you say you want the light-coloured puppy, you use ‘the’, because it is clear both to you and to your listener exactly which puppy you want!

It’s the same when you’re talking about sectors:

  • The agricultural sector is different from the economic sector in the way research is conducted.

Admittedly, identifying the main noun in a noun phrase becomes challenging with longer phrases. For example, can you identify the main noun in the following highlighted phrase? Answers in the comments section below! 🙂

  • I sometimes experience difficulties with the less obvious and more subtly nuanced aspects of article use in unnecessarily complicated academic writing.

Incidentally, an English native speaker would probably use the name of the sector without labelling it ‘sector’:

  • The agricultural sector is different from the economic sector in the way research is conducted.

This ‘labelling’ of nouns is discussed further in a previous post.


In Australia I will need a lot of budget because I have to buy many things.

First of all budget is countable, and since you’ve written ‘a lot of’, then there should be an ‘s’ on budget. But there’s another problem. Budget has 2 meanings that are potentially useful in this situation:

1. Budget as a sum of money that has been set aside for a particular purpose:

In Australia I will need a large budget because I have to buy many things.

2. Budget as a document containing a list of items:

In Australia there will be many items on my budget, and so I will need a lot of money.

In both of these examples..

  • budget is a singular countable noun
  • ‘large’ collocates with budget
  • ‘item(s)’ collocates with budget (don’t forget the preposition ‘on’)
  • as a singular countable noun, budget requires some kind of determiner (article, possessive, etc.)

Often students who are preparing for IELTS feel they have to do everything to avoid repetition, and so they use budget instead of ‘money’. However, budget is not synonymous with ‘money’. When you’re talking about money and comparing how much things cost, it’s safer to use words like ‘money’, ‘cheap’, ‘expensive’, etc.

Add a comment below and tell us about some of the items on your budget for study in Australia! 🙂

image source

Against the misuse of ‘against’

Most Indonesian people against the removal of fuel subsidies.

In English, against is a preposition, and so this sentence does not contain a verb and is therefore not a sentence. To make it a sentence, you can do this..

  • Most Indonesian people are against the removal of fuel subsidies.
    (to be + against)

or (slightly more academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people oppose the removal of fuel subsidies.

or (also academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people object to the removal of fuel subsidies.

Hope that helps!

there is/are (ada)

In Australia there are many women receive the same salary as men.

Indonesian flag A common mistake made by Indonesians is to include the ‘introductory subject’ (there is/there are) as well as another subject, before the verb in a sentence.This might be possible in Bahasa Indonesia, but in English you must choose either this:

  • In Australia many women receive the same salary as men.
    (subject: many women)

..or this:

  • In Australia there are many women who receive the same salary as men.
    (subject: there are)

Indonesian flag Next time your head is telling you ‘ada..‘, stop and ask yourself whether you really need to use there is/there are. If you already have a subject, don’t use there is/there are!

(the) society

Unemployment is one of the most serious problems for the society today.

The problem here is that the society (with ‘the’) has quite a different meaning to society (without ‘the’).

If you’re talking about all of humanity as a collective, then you’re probably talking about society. In this case you’re probably thinking about the whole of the human race at a particular time, usually around now. If problems are faced by society (without ‘the’), then they are likely to be problems that all people face, either across an entire country, or possibly all over the world, and so in this case you need:

  • Unemployment is one of the most serious problems for society today.

On the other hand if you’re talking about a specific group of people who have some kind of shared set of specific interests then you need the society. For example in this list of academic ‘societies’, group members relate to each other because they share the same academic interests. Similarly, universities often have societies devoted to particular hobbies or interests. In this case you might be writing something like:

  • In our university the most popular society is the photographic society. The society has 600 members.

Notice that in this example, not only do we use ‘the’ to show that we are talking about a specific group, but we also use words to modify the word society so that our reader understands exactly which group we’re talking about (‘most popular’, ‘photographic’).

So, be careful next time you use society! And if you’re still not happy with this explanation, and you’re not afraid of distractions, you can check out society in a dictionary. Better still look at some sentences featuring society.

(cover photo: source)

Trump, Twitter, Trends, Task 1

IELTS Task 1 trends practice activity

  1. Study the chart below (source here).
  2. On a piece of paper, write a short paragraph describing the main trends. Don’t look at PG’s text just yet!
  3. Read PG’s sample text (below). Click highlighted text for explanations.


Sample text by @guruEAP. Click highlighted text for explanations.

In general, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton attract by far the highest numbers of Twitter followers, but all candidates enjoyed significant increases in follower numbers during the period. In terms of average retweets per tweet, Bernie Sanders joins Trump and Clinton in the top three. Trump’s Twitter account saw almost twice as many retweets as Sanders’, and more than three times as many as Clinton’s. However, Sanders trumps trump when it comes to retweets per tweet per 1,000 followers.


In general – This is the most concise way to introduce an overview, and remember that an overview is important if you want a good score for Task Achievement. See public band descriptors for Task 1. (back)

attract – This is more sophisticated vocabulary than simply saying ‘have’. (back)

by far – This is a good way to intensify a superlative adjective. (back)

numbers – ‘number’ (without ‘s’) is also possible. However, each candidate has a number of followers, so technically there is more than one ‘number’. (back)

but – In this part of the essay it is often possible, and therefore a good idea, to show comparison and/or contrast. Remember to signal this contrast (here I use ‘but’.). (back)

enjoyed – Again, this is more sophisticated than simply saying ‘had’. (back)

significant – This is a more sophisticated alternative to ‘big’, ‘large’, ‘huge’, etc. (back)

in – The correct preposition after ‘increase(s)’. (back)

during the period – If you have already mentioned the period – July 1 2015-Feb 29 2016 – in your opening statement, then you can use this phrase to refer back to it. (back)

in terms of – This is an extremely useful phrase in Task 1 writing. With this phrase you make clear to the examiner exactly what it is you are talking about. (back)

in the top three – Ranking items is usually possible, and often desirable, in the overview. (back)

saw – More sophisticated than ‘had’. (back)

twice as many – Always look for multiples! (back)

trump – Be careful when you use idioms, but they increase your score for lexical resource (=vocabulary). Take a look in a dictionary at the idiomatic uses of ‘trump’. (back)

when it comes to – An alternative to ‘in terms of’ to make clear exactly what you are talking about. (back)

Useful resources

IELTS Writing Task 1 public band descriptors