Jumbled hedges

Academic writers make frequent use of ‘hedges’ – phrases that change the strength of their claims so as to make them more acceptable to other academics. A claim can be made stronger or weaker by adding adjectives and adverbs, by changing verbs, or by adding lengthy ‘hedging’ phrases.

The activity below includes 10 sentences that feature hedging. Try to reconstruct them and see if you can identify which words and phrases constitute ‘hedging’!

(Answer key below!) Continue reading

Have you tried present perfect recently?

Social media are the most common media to be used to share information recently.

This looks like as though it might function as the opening sentence of an IELTS Task 2 essay. Let’s first of all remind ourselves about some ideal features for the IELTS Task 2 opening sentence:

  1. We’re introducing the topic as stated on the IELTS question paper.
  2. We’re thinking about our reader and what might be interesting to him / her. (Our reader is an educated non-specialist, someone quite educated who reads a lot and knows what’s happening in the world.)
  3. We’re relating the topic to a current situation or event, because current situations or events are automatically interesting.
  4. We’re relating the topic to a local context, because that’s also interesting to our reader, and because we know more about local than about distant contexts.

Hmm, even without seeing the question paper we can see that our writer has generally ticked these boxes. Now let’s focus on the word recently. That’s a good word to use as it helps to tick box number 3 – it helps us to focus on a current feature of the topic. It’s important to understand, however, that current is communicated in various ways and we have to choose time expressions and matching tenses carefully.

Current = now

  • Social media are the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are the most common media to be used to share information.

All present simple tense.
Notice that present simple tense can mean ‘now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.

Current = around now

  • Social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.

All present continuous tense.
Notice that present continuous tense can mean ‘around now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
Notice also that ‘to be ‘ cannot be continuous. In this case it is easy to use ‘become’ in the continuous, but only if you feel the situation is changing over time.

Current = up to and including now

  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information recently.
  • Social media have recently become the most common media to be used to share information.

All present perfect tense.
Notice that present perfect tense means ‘up to and including now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
‘Recently’ is a strong ‘present perfect’ time expression and if you don’t believe me, browse over and check out countless other examples at forbetterenglish.com.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening example, clearly our writer wants to communicate either ‘now’ or ‘around now’, and so ‘recently’ is not the best time expression! My advice would be to use present simple + ‘today’:

  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.

Opinion in IELTS Task 2 Introductions

Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, many people claim that taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

If you want a good score for Task Response in IELTS writing (see public band descriptors) then you need to make sure your opinion is clear in every paragraph – including your introduction.

Most of the time in academic writing we try to make our own opinions look strong and other people’s appear weak. We can achieve this in 3 ways:

1. Positioning

Position other people’s ideas before your own and add a contrasting signal to show that your own idea is coming next.

In our opening example, our writer uses effective positioning, beginning with someone else’s idea before giving us her own, and she uses a contrasting signal – however – to confirm that it’s her idea next.

2. Evaluative language

Use negative evaluative language to talk about other people’s ideas and positive evaluative language to talk about yours.

Our writer does not use particularly negative language to describe opposite opinion, but that’s OK – she has already put opposite opinion in ‘weak’ position. She then strengthens her own idea with an extremely positive evaluative adjective – beneficial.

3. Problematising

When introducing other people’s ideas, use problematising phrases to show that there might be something wrong with their ideas.

Our writer uses a problematising phrase – some people argue that – to introduce opposite opinion and make it appear weak. Great! But then..

sinking ship
..she uses another problematising phrase – many people claim that – to introduce her own idea!? This is supposed to be your opinion, not many people’s!

Summary

If we take out that second – confusing – problematising phrase, then we’re left with a nice introduction to this argument about gap years. The writer’s opinion is now obvious, and the reader can look forward to some supporting arguments in the following body paragraphs.

  • Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

Success failure effort belief – Part 2

Spoiler alert! If you want to test your ability to use these words, try the gap fill challenge first!

In my previous post I challenged you to complete a text using the words success, failure, effort, and belief. In this post I give the completed text plus some advice about common collocations used in the text.

1. If you tried the challenge, read the text and check your answers.

Bill is a successful olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved success in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a success. Last year he successfully broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his success? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to succeed!

Budi is unsuccessful as a runner. He fails every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a failure. As a child he failed. As a teenager he failed, and now as a middle age man he continues to fail. He believes his constant failure to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso.

It seems that in order to succeed, a runner needs to make an effort to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a belief in winning. It is only when we believe we will win that we can avoid failure and achieve success.

2. Notice the underlined collocations!

  • achieve success (without ‘a’)
  • be a success (with ‘a’)
  • be a failure (with ‘a’)
  • make an effort to + V1
  • failure to win (failure uncountable)
  • a belief in + n

I searched in my favourite online collocation dictionary OZDIC and found some other collocations for success, failure, effort, and belief. Try searching for other forms of these words and look at different collocates.

3. Talk about it! (IELTS Speaking Part 2)

With a friend, share successful and less successful experiences. Talk about how much effort you made in order to achieve a goal.  Are you ‘a success’? How do you know?

4. Write about it! (IELTS Writing Task 2)

  • What are the factors that cause success or failure?
  • Does failure mean that the desire to succeed wasn’t strong enough?
  • What are some different ways to measure success and failure? What is the best way? Why?

Post your writing in the comments box below and I will give feedback.

Success failure effort belief

These words – success, failure, effort, belief – take different forms and collocate strongly with other words.

Indonesian flag They’re also problematic for Indonesian scholars. Success has become sukses, effort is translated from upaya, and belief is subject to the same word form error as life (see note below).

Use a dictionary to complete the following text with suitable forms of these words.

Instructions

Enter the following items into the gaps, then click 'Check your answers!'
success, belief, failure, believe, fail, succeed, successfully, failed, successful, effort, fails


Bill is a (1) olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved (2) in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a (3) . Last year he (4) broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his (5) ? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to (6) !

Budi is a (7) as a runner. He (8) every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a (9) . As a child he (10) . As a teenager he (11) , and now as a middle age man he continues to (12) . He believes his constant (13) to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso (with white rice, of course).

It seems that in order to (14) , a runner needs to make an (15) to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a (16) in winning. It is only when we (17) we will win that we can avoid (18) and achieve (19) .


 
Indonesian flag Note to Indonesian scholars

  • In English effort is a noun (not a verb). So what is a good translation for mengupaya untuk..?
  • Word form errors made with belief and believe are the same as errors made with life and live.

More than one ‘most’!

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factor in environmental land degradation.

I know what you’re thinking – one means singular. Well, true, but that’s ‘over-grazing’ – even though it’s uncountable, the subject ‘over-grazing’ is a single thing. In this structure, one of + superlative adjective is telling us about ‘factors’, not about ‘over-grazing’.

I know what else you’re thinking – surely there is only one most?! Well, not always! When it comes to land degradation there is more than one ‘most significant factor’. For example, ‘deforestation’ is another ‘most significant factor’, and so ‘factor’ needs to be plural:

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factors in environmental land degradation.

Repeat after me..

one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
(repeat until you get tired..)

More examples using ‘most’ here.

You could use ‘can’, or not!

This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

This is possible in some languages but not in English. In English if something happens the same way, all the time, predictably, without variation, then there isn’t really any question of probability (‘could‘). For regular, predictable phenomena use good old present simple tense without modals:

  • This is achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

Only use modals for unpredictable or uncertain situations, and then think about the degree of predictability or certainty:

  • This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level, but there are other, better methods.
    (= Gravity perhaps not the best method)
  • In most situations this can be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.
    (= Gravity usually the best method)

Indonesian flag Notice that could implies a more negative evaluation than can. Indonesians should think carefully about this distinction as they tend to over-use could, having been taught in school that could is more formal than can. Well, yes it is, but only in offers and requests:

  • Can you pass the salt? (informal)
  • Could you pass the salt, please? (formal)
  • Excuse me. Would you mind passing the salt? (very formal)
  • etc.

Youths or young people?

These days youths are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

This is grammatically correct but inappropriate.

The countable noun youth tends to have negative connotations, especially when it’s plural or part of the lexical phrase the youth of today:

  • Youths at football matches often cause trouble.
  • The youth of today have no respect for others.

Youths are troublemakers, at that awkward age between childhood and adulthood when they rebel against authority and indulge in sex, drugs and rock and roll, often with negative consequences. Youths hang around town in gangs and old ladies are afraid of them.

'Youths' in a residential area
Youths in a residential area

Most of the time in IELTS Task 2 essays you want to maintain a more positive – or at least neutral – attitude to young people, and so it’s probably best to refer to them as exactly that – young people!

  • These days young people are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

Another option for IELTS writing would be:

  • These days the younger generation are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.
'Young people'
Clean living young people facing the future
as responsible members of society!

In IELTS Task 2 you also often want to make a prediction about how a situation may affect young people in the future. In this case you are talking about future generations:

  • Global warming is a problem that governments need to solve for the sake of future generations.
  • Future generations will prosper as long as they follow a healthy lifestyle.

Notice that we assume there will be more than one future generation and if we’re generalising then there is no article (the).