A ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

What a cute baby! Is it a ‘he’ or a ‘she’?

Ok so I admit that occasionally we might not recognise somebody’s gender. But when their gender is obvious then we need to use the right pronoun, at least when we’re taking an exam!

Many languages, including Bahasa Indonesia, use non-sexist pronouns. And many languages use the same pronoun for subjects and objects, and even for possessives! It’s hardly surprising that students find English pronouns challenging, but for IELTS they have to be right!

Some yukky theory:

subject object possessive
he him his
she her hers
it it its

Ok now fill the gaps with suitable pronouns!

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Use ‘it’ with care

People who live in remote areas sometimes have limited access to the things they want to buy. Since it cannot be provided by retail shops, online shopping may be the solution.

To make your writing ‘flow’ so that pieces of information connect together well, use ‘itonly when ‘it‘ refers back to the subject of the previous sentence.

When you use ‘it’ then the subject will be either singular countable or uncountable:

  • My watch was expensive. It is a gold watch. I love it.
  • Beer is delicious. It is also expensive. I love it.

In the opening example the reader searches for but cannot find a subject to match ‘it‘. For a start, all of the nouns are plural!

After re-reading the text two or three times we see you are using ‘it‘ to refer to ‘the things people want to buy‘, which is rather confusing since ‘the things people want to buy‘ is not the subject of the previous sentence and it is neither singular countable nor uncountable.

This kind of mismatch interrupts the flow of information in the text and brings down your score for coherence and cohesion in IELTS writing, as well as your score for fluency in IELTS speaking.

In order to maintain ‘flow’ in the online shopping example, you need to do this:

  • People who live in remote areas sometimes have limited access to the things they want to buy. Since the things that people who live in remote areas want to buy cannot be provided by retail shops, online shopping may be the solution.

And for even better flow you can remind your reader about the context of those retail shops. After all, you’re not talking about retail shops in the middle of a large city, are you?

  • People who live in remote areas sometimes have limited access to the things they want to buy. Since the things that people who live in remote areas want to buy cannot be provided by retail shops in those areas, online shopping may be the solution.

Students often complain, “..but now there’s a lot of repetition!”

Perhaps, but your first priority is to communicate effectively. If the only way to achieve this is by repeating a few words, then you MUST repeat them.

And remember – ‘it‘ refers back to the subject of the previous sentence. Do not make the following mistake:

If your dog poos..

‘It’ or ‘this’? Theme or rheme?

The government has just removed fuel subsidies. It means that the price of basic goods will surely go up.

It’s sometimes useful to think of a sentence as having a theme (in this case ‘The government’) and a rheme (‘has just removed fuel subsidies’).

When you want to refer back to the theme, use a pronoun:

  • The government has just removed fuel subsidies. They felt that the fuel subsidies were not economically sustainable.

When you want to refer back to the rheme, use ‘this’ or ‘these’:

  • The government has just removed fuel subsidies. This means that the price of basic goods will surely go up.

Choosing the right referencing word (‘it’ or ‘this’) will make your writing more coherent (easier to understand). If you are preparing for IELTS, the right choice of referencing word will give you a higher score for coherence and cohesion (see IELTS public band descriptors).