At the weekend I like watching

In my leisure time I like swimming, reading, and watching.

If you are contrasting doing an activity with simply watching then you don’t need to mention the activity:

Examiner: Do you do any sport?
Candidate: I like to watch.
(= I prefer watching than playing!)

Meanwhile if someone is showing you how to do something, you don’t need to mention the thing that they’re showing you:

Instructor: OK, now watch carefully!
Student: I’m watching.

However, if the thing you’re watching is something specific, then you need to mention that thing:

  • In my leisure time I love to swim and watch movies.
  • I don’t watch much TV now that we have YouTube.

This is especially important if the thing you are watching is TV or a movie, because watch collocates very strongly with these nouns.

Indonesian flag Indonesians translating ‘nonton‘ need to remember that if you don’t tell your listener what it is that you’re watching, then as far as your listener is concerned, you could by watching almost anything, like watching paint dry or watching grass grow!

What is collocation?

In my last post I set a challenge that required you to understand the concept collocation, but later it occurred to me that you might not understand what it is.

  • We say “Merry Christmas.”
  • We say “Happy birthday.”
  • We never say “Merry birthday.”

There is no grammatical reason why we cannot say Merry birthday. In fact the only explanation is that, well, that’s just the way it is! Welcome to the frustrating world of collocation.

How to define ‘collocation’?

Continue reading

Collocation hunt #1

The solution to this challenge can be found in the following post, although you will first of all need to read a little about collocation. If you’re serious about IELTS, read on!


I hope that in the future I will be able to give a contribution as an Indonesian expert in mosquito-borne disease.

Indonesian flag This Indonesian writer has tied the verb give to the noun contribution. Unfortunately, although these words may be collocates in the writer’s first language, they do not go together in English. Actually the meaning is already clear and so this won’t damage his IELTS score too badly. However, for a higher score for vocabulary in writing and speaking you will need stronger collocation, or even something completely different. For example, a native speaker is just as likely to use a verb without a noun:

  • I hope that in the future I will be able to contribute as an Indonesian expert in mosquito-borne disease.

24hr Collocation hunt challenge!

In English there is a verb that collocates strongly with contribute, but rather than give it to you on a plate, I’m going to give you 24 hours to find it by yourself. However, because I am such a nice Pak Guru, I’m going to take you directly to the treasure. All you have to do is search carefully through the box and you will find the verb that collocates strongly with contribute. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Click on the box and see what you can find!treasure chest

If you think you have found the mystery verb, write a sentence using the verb (+ contribution) in the comments box below. This time tomorrow I will give the answer if nobody has already found it. Happy hunting!

Alone, on my own, by myself

Sometimes I am a lonely person and I struggle by my own.

This is an understandable error since there are other, similar phrases, and it’s likely that the writer has got them muddled up. The following phrases are possible:

  • I live alone in a one-room apartment.
  • I live on my own now that my cat has died.
  • I live by myself in a hut on the beach.

The good news is that all three phrases can be used more or less interchangeably, without having to worry to much about context or collocation.

Best of luck with your lonely struggling!

Hours of rush hour!

Many vehicles produce smoke in the street, especially in rush hours.

It’s true that in many cities, Indonesian flag including Indonesian cities, traffic is heavy early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Admittedly rush hour can last for more than one hour at a time – in Jakarta it can take 3 hours to get to work and another 3 to get home! However, rush hour is always singular, even if it lasts for 3 hours. Rush hour also begins and ends at predictable times, and so if you say rush hour people know you’re talking about a certain period of time in the morning and a certain period of time in the afternoon:

Many vehicles produce smoke in the street, especially at rush hour. (Maybe 7-9am and 4-6pm, depending on the city!)

There is also some collocation you might want to think about:

  • At rush hour, everybody is on the road!
  • Rush hour traffic is very heavy!
  • It’s best to stay off the road during rush hour!

And if you do find yourself stuck in rush hour traffic, open up @guruEAP and turn rush hour into study hour!

Reconstructing work through automation

  1. Think about – or better still, chat to a friend – about the nature of work.
  2. What is work? Why do we work?
  3. If humans are replaced by machines in the workplace, what are we going to do with all our free time?
  4. Watch and listen to the video. Then attempt to reconstruct the text using the app below.

Continue reading

Men and women and work

This article from the Economist includes some nice vocabulary and structures for IELTS Task 1 writing. Click linked words and phrases for more information or head directly to the analysis below.

Women in England and Wales are having 1.9 children on average, fewer than their mothers who had 2.2 offspring, according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s a small decrease but the lowest level on record and continues the downward trend of the past few years. The decline is in part due to a growing number of women not having children, with one-fifth now childless. There has also been a fall in the number of teenage pregnancies. About 6% of women have a baby before their 20th birthday, again continuing a long-term downward trend. But “it’s not just childlessness,” said Emily Knipe of the Office for National Statistics. More and more women are having fewer babies. The data showed about one in 10 mothers today having four or more children, compared with one in eight of their mothers’ generation.
role reversal
Women are also having babies later. By their 30th birthdays, women today are likely to have had one child. Their mothers were likely to have had 1.8. The ONS suggested this is because more women are going into higher education and are also delaying finding a partner. Ms Knipe said: “It’s not just a biological factor of people leaving it too late. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests people are choosing not to have children.”

Analysis

Trends

Indonesian flag The word ‘trend‘ is only used once, and even then it is used together with ‘downward‘! See this post for further discussion of ‘trend‘.

Although is used to contrast two trends at the same time. This is a good thing to do, if you can, in your IELTS Task 1 overview.

Indonesian flag Indonesians notice the contrasted items are separated with a comma without ‘but’ (akan tetapi).

  • Although female-dominated industries have suffered fewer job losses from globalisation and technological change, they also pay less.

Referencing and substitution

One way to avoid repetition in your writing is to refer to nouns using referencing words as substitutes (it, they, this, those, etc). using these will improve your score for coherence and cohesion (CC). Examples here include:
  • This form of segregation.. (= men and women pursue different lines of work)
  • ..those that have long employed women.. (those = ‘the fastest growing industries in America)
  • This does not mean.. (This = slow growth of sectors dominated by men)
  • ..they also pay less. (they = slow growth of sectors dominated by men)
  • ..the figure (= % of American doctors and lawyers who are women)
  • ..this process takes time (= changing male and female roles in the workplace)
  • At this rate.. (= the rate at which full gender equality is to be achieved)
Indonesian flag Notice that the pronoun ‘it’ is not used at all as a substitute! Read this post to find out why.

Vocabulary (Lexical Resource)

In IELTS terms there is some high-band vocabulary and interesting collocation:
  • pursue (v) + lines of work (n)
  • segregation (n) – in this case male / female
  • better off (adj) – comparative form of well-off (wealthy)
  • capture (v) + jobs (n)
  • mere (adj) – to emphasise a low figure
  • gender (adj) + parity (n) – sophisticated synonym for gender equality
  • the field – the work field (Make sure you establish a context before reducing a phrase like this!)

Tenses

Present simple is used for situations that are true all the time:
  • Men and women often pursue different lines of work.
  • etc.
Present perfect is used to talk about trends that began in the past and are still happening now:
  • ..many sectors…have grown much more slowly..
  • etc.
Will is used for prediction:
  • ..the field will not achieve gender parity for another 200 years.

Percentages

When a percentage is mentioned for the first time it is always followed by of + the whole. If you’re not sure what is meant by the whole, I suggest you read this.
  • In the 1960s, less than 10% of American doctors and lawyers were women.
  • Today over 60% of chefs and cooks are men.
  • ..a mere 10% of all nursing jobs.
If you’re preparing for IELTS Task 1, I strongly recommend that you read my other posts that deal with percentages.

Structures

The writer uses a participle clause to add information about a trend. In IELTS Task 1 this structure – comma + __ing – is often used to present the result(s) of a trend. For more information, see this post.
  • Today, women graduate from university at higher rates than men, putting them in a stronger position for many well-paid professional jobs that were once male-dominated.

Despite ‘spite’

Despite of its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.

This error is easy to understand. Students see examples of in spite of, which contains spite, and they generalise the same structure to make despite of, perhaps because it also contains spite, has the same number of syllables, and even has the same syllable stress. However, as we all know, English is not always so predictable!

The two closest corrections are:

  • In spite of its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.
    – In spite of + noun + comma + independent clause
  • Despite its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.
    – Despite (without of!) + noun + comma + independent clause

We could therefore write:

  • Despite containing ‘spite’, ‘despite’ is not followed by ‘of’!

Some alternatives to ‘some’

Unemployment has increased in recent years for some reasons.

Indonesian flag In this post, Indonesian students of English will discover more appropriate ways to say ‘beberapa’ or berbagai’ in IELTS and in general academic writing.

First of all ‘for some reasons’ appears odd because there is a very similar lexical phrasefor some reason (reason without ‘s’) – meaning that there may be a reason but it is presently unknown. Clearly this is not what the writer intended in the opening example!

Secondly, there is a slightly different lexical phrase that is often used in this situation – for several reasons – meaning ‘there are several possible reasons’. Surely this is what the writer meant to communicate? Reasons are known and the writer is going to share them with us.

What better way to illustrate the alternatives than to see them in a text?

The workforce at DJ Computers has become smaller in recent years for several reasons. First of all the company has been forced to make staff redundant following financial recession. Certain staff will not lose their jobs because their work is essential to the company. Various other staff, however, are less essential, and management will consider a number of different criteria when deciding who will stay and who will go.

So there you have it:

  • several (collocates strongly with ‘reasons’, extremely common inside the lexical phrase ‘for several reasons‘ – examples)
  • certain (for people or things that are somehow ‘unique’ – examples)
  • various (collocates strongly with ‘other’ + plural count noun – examples)
  • a number of (plus plural count noun – examples)

Use these alternatives flexibly in your IELTS writing and you will improve your score for LR (Lexical Resource) and possibly also for TA/TR (Task Achievement/Task Response). If you’re not sure what is meant by LR, TA and TR, take a look at the IELTS public band descriptors for Speaking and Writing. Links to these can be found here.

By the way you might also notice that ‘staff’ is used here as an uncountable noun, which it is, most of the time. I talk about ‘staff’ in more detail in a previous post.


A lexical phrase is a phrase in which words always appear in the same form and the same sequence. They include words that collocate strongly with each other, and are therefore good to use in IELTS speaking and writing. Lexical phrases are also often idiomatic.

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