I recently started walking to work occasionally, but it’s still only once in a blue moon.
Students read in the IELTS public band descriptors that band 7 candidates can use ‘idiomatic language’, and so they head for the nearest idioms dictionary and start writing things like ‘once in a blue moon‘, or ‘a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush‘, but in the wrong contexts!
In this post we take a look at what the IELTS test means by ‘idiomatic language’. Continue reading
Some people claim that working hours for labours in factories are too long.
Here an Indonesian student is trying to find a synonym for ‘worker‘. Unfortunately the hierarchy of ‘work‘ is labelled differently in English.
In English a ‘labourer‘ (‘labour‘ + ‘er‘) does work that distinguish him or her from other kinds of worker:
- Labourers are usually unskilled.
- Labourers often have to use physical strength because their work requires them to lift and carry things.
- The work of labourers is generally outdoor work.
- Labouring is often dirty work.
- Labouring is not very well paid in most countries.
Here are some pictures of ‘labourers‘.
If you want to use a synonym for ‘worker’ then try to consider:
- where the work takes place
- the level of skill involved
- the salary it attracts
These considerations will lead you to a more accurate label for the work you are talking or writing about. In IELTS a more accurate label is also likely to get you a higher score for Lexical Resource (vocabulary).
This dictionary entry offers a wide selection of labels for different kinds of work.
Other word forms and idioms
Labourer – the person (countable)
Labour – noun (uncountable, abstract meaning)
Labour – verb
Laborious – adjective (Sometimes skilled work can be ‘laborious’, especially if it requires physical effort or is repetitive).
Hard labour – A form of punishment used by tyrannical governments, often for political prisoners. If my work feels like hard labour, it’s very hard work!
In labour – Giving birth!
Labour over something – Work extra hard at a task.
Famous people are followed everywhere by the press. Their families sometimes feel they have to hide from reporters, and the children of famous people may feel that they are living behind the bar.
Here, again, we have a breakdown in communication caused by inaccurate use of articles.
Remember that for any noun there are 3 possible meanings:
- all of them everywhere (or all of it for non-count nouns)
- one of many (or some of many for plurals)
- this one exactly (or these exactly for plurals)
I think the writer of the opening example meant to describe the bars in a prison, and was trying to use the idiom ‘behind bars‘ (grammar = some of many).
- ‘the‘ indicates this one exactly. If you are talking idiomatically about a prison window then that doesn’t look right. If there’s only one bar and unless it’s a very small window – or a very large bar – then the prisoner will be able to escape easily!
- Meanwhile ‘the bar‘ has very strong connotations with the part of a pub or restaurant where people sit to drink alcohol. Add ‘behind‘ and you get ‘behind the bar‘ – the area where drinks are stored and where the bar staff prepare drinks for customers. Clearly this is not a suitable place for children!
I’m pretty sure the writer meant something like this:
- Famous people are followed everywhere by the press. Their families sometimes feel they have to hide from reporters, and the children of famous people may feel that they are living behind bars.
Now the text carries two correct meanings:
- The ‘s‘ on ‘bars‘ gives us the grammatical meaning some of many – so, more than one bar. (high score in IELTS writing for grammar)
- ‘behind bars‘ is an idiom – we don’t imagine the children actually in prison, they’re just ‘trapped‘ somehow, or their movements are restricted. (high score in IELTS writing for vocabulary)
Be careful with your meanings and choose articles (or ‘s‘) with care!