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).

Contribution, cause, effect

The experience I got from this job has strong contributions in changing my character from employee to leader.

This is a word that has been borrowed from English and is now used in Indonesian as the noun kontribusi. However, it’s difficult to find a verb that collocates with the noun contribution in English. Certainly you would not use ‘have‘ + ‘contributions‘. In English, contribution usually appears before the verb, as the subject of a sentence. In addition, contribution (subject) often refers either to money or to the efforts of a person or people. In the example above, however, experience and changing are both abstract nouns where one is the cause and the other is the effect.

If you want to communicate cause effect then you need the verb form contribute. There are still collocation issues, but heck – that gives you something to show off in your IELTS writing, right?

  • The experience I got from this job has contributed greatly to changing my character from employee to leader.

Notice!

Remember that when both nouns are abstract, contribute to behaves as a cause effect signal. This is a relatively low-frequency signal and is therefore a good signal to use in IELTS writing as an alternative to the more common verb cause.

Contribute to is also weaker than cause and is therefore useful when you want to express less than 100% certainty:

  • Greenhouse gases cause global warming. (Strong – implies no other causes)
  • Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. (Weaker – implies there may be other causes)

Using weak verbs is one of several strategies for weakening debatable claims. I deal with other strategies in other posts. You can find two more strategies here.

Two chill pills for writers

Students experience stress when they enter university because college life is tough and tiring.

In my opinion this writer needs to take a chill pill. The claim he or she is making about university seems highly subjective and emotional.

The first problem is that there are plenty of students – myself included – who do not experience stress when they enter university. Secondly, college life is not always tough and tiring. College life includes fun social activities with friends, holidays, and leisure activities on and off campus. Both of these ideas can be incorporated into the original statement after taking two chill pills:

  • Students often experience stress when they enter university because college life can be tough and tiring.
  1. (Pill 1) The adverb often tells us two things:
    • the frequency of stress (not always!)
    • the number of students who experience stress (not all!)
  2. (Pill 2) The modal can tells us about the possibility that college life is not always tough and tiring (It’s possible, but maybe not.)

Why is it a good idea to weaken claims like this?

  • it makes claims easier to defend
  • it makes your writing appear less subjective and more objective
  • it shows that you are confidently uncertain. 
  • it sends a message to your reader that you might be wrong, and you welcome feedback and corrections

When you’re reading journal articles, look for other strategies writers use to weaken (or strengthen) claims.

Lemon Squeezy

Another song from @GuruEAP – this time to practice the words ‘easy‘ and ‘difficult‘. See also this earlier post for further practice of these not-so-easy items!

A free handout with lyrics and tasks for students accompanies the song. The video features Indonesian EAP students preparing to study abroad. Enjoy!

Not everything is ‘convenient’

Physical shops are more convenient than online stores. Firstly, in physical shops customers are able to touch goods and try on clothes. Secondly, shopping in physical shops can be a social activity.

There is a category of physical store aptly named ‘convenience stores‘. Many countries have 7 Elevens. In Indonesia we have Indomaret, Alfamart and Circle K.

Indonesian flag Indonesians might call a shop that sells everything at a low price ‘convenient‘. However, the prices in convenience stores like Circle K can be quite a lot higher than average. These shops inflate prices precisely so that they can offer ‘conveniences‘:

  • they are numerous, especially in cities
  • they have ample parking if they are situated on a road
  • they can even be found inside large shopping centres
  • they stock items that most people need on a daily basis
  • they provide fast and efficient service

These are all features that native English speakers would consider ‘convenient‘. In English something is ‘convenient‘ when it saves you time and effort. Being able to touch goods is not a matter of ‘convenience‘. It may be practical, but it is not what most people would call ‘convenient‘, and neither is meeting your friends when you go to physical stores.

For your convenience, here are some definitions of ‘convenience’, as well as some pictures of convenient things.

In(the) first place

In the first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation.

Not a terrible error – we know what you mean! But still, it’s important to understand the distinction between ‘in first place’ and ‘in the first place’.

In IELTS Task 1 writing we often find ourselves ranking items as follows:

  • In first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation. Meanwhile in second place, 20% of land degradation was caused by deforestation.

But what if you’re listing rather than ranking? Let’s say, for example, that you’re listing supports for an argument. In this case you need ‘in the first place’, ‘in the second place’, etc.:

  • Mr Jones cannot be the one who stole your car. In the first place he was in a different city when the car was stolen, and secondly he is blind!

In this case ‘in the first place‘ means ‘as the first consideration‘. It’s often used to introduce reasons that should be obvious but may need to be emphasised, as in the above example. Notice that it is unusual to continue ‘in the second place‘, ‘in the third place‘, etc. Better to switch to ‘secondly‘, ‘thirdly‘, and so on.

To sum up..

  • In first place..’ is useful in Task 1 writing (for ranking)
  • In the first place..’ is useful in Task 2 writing (for emphasising reasons)

TIP! If you’re doing this in IELTS Speaking, it can sometimes help you to structure an argument if you count off items using your fingers, perhaps under the table!

firstsecondthird


PS. See also my earlier post dealing with ‘in second place’ instead of ‘second winner’ (which does NOT mean ‘in second place’!).

Goodbye to ‘By’

By paying more attention to corruption can improve the welfare of a country.

Yet another Indonesian structure that doesn’t translate directly into English!

If you really must begin with ‘by‘ then you need…

  • By paying more attention to corruption, a government can improve the welfare of a country.
    By + [name of solution] + subject + verb (+ etc):

However, native speakers would probably just say “Goodbye to ‘By’” and go straight to the solution as the theme in the sentence:

  • Paying more attention to corruption can improve the welfare of a country.