As we know, fixed expressions rock!

As we know that, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

English, even academic English, is full of ‘fixed expressions’ – phrases that are always written and spoken in exactly the same form. Fixed expressions can be quite long and may include some sophisticated grammar, but it’s best to think of them as individual vocabulary items. Record them as vocabulary items. Memorise them as vocabulary items. Don’t change the word order of a fixed expression, and don’t change any word forms inside a fixed expression, even if you think your alterations make sense:

  • You’re playing with fire!
  • You’re playing with fires! (Altered word form)
  • You’re playing with flames! (Changed word)
  • You’re playing with the fire! (Added word)
  • You’re with fire playing! (Changed word order)

Indonesian flag You will be less likely to make errors like these if you memorise fixed expressions much as you might memorise individual vocabulary items. You may also notice how the structure of a fixed expression differs from its translation. For example, Indonesians feel a strong urge to add bahwa after seperti kita ketahui. (In English there is no bahwa):

  • As we know, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

As we know  = 1 item, 3 words (not 4!)
Notice also that in this example as we know also requires a comma (,) to separate it from last year.

Record fixed expressions in your vocabulary notebook. Review them. Memorise them. Use them in sentences. And watch how your IELTS scores for writing and speaking start to increase!

Aggressive contents(!)

Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive contents.

It’s difficult to imagine contents behaving aggressively:

aggressive contents

Take a look at some examples of sentences using content (uncountable) and contents (plural countable). Remember that when you’re talking about something that can be countable or uncountable, and if you are writing in general terms about that thing, then you should use the uncountable form.

  • Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive content.

Free sex and a split personality

For me as religious people, I totally disagree with free sex.

How can you be more than one person? Are you schizophrenic?!

  • For me as a religious person, I totally disagree with casual sex.

It would be more academic to talk about promiscuous behaviour / promiscuity / casual sex rather than free sex.

Some counterargument, for people open to argument:

sex lies and religion

First the problem of no verb.

First of all, the problem of humans using too many of the world’s resources.

Me: Obviously this is no good because there’s no verb.
You: What about ‘using’? Isn’t that a verb?
Me: Sometimes yes, but here it functions as a noun modifier, not as a verb. It’s telling you something about the noun ‘humans’. It’s part of one long noun phrase: ‘the problem of humans using too many of the world’s resources. If you want to you can use this long noun phrase as a subject:

  • First of all, the problem of humans using too many of the world’s resources is a difficult problem to solve.

..or as an object:

  • The government is striving to solve the problem of humans using too many of the world’s resources.

In future make sure your sentence has at least a subject and a verb.

Using ‘that’ to acknowledge sources

A study conducted in 1965 identified that argument mapping leads to clearer writing.

Some reporting verbs require a ‘that’ clause, others do not:

  • A study conducted in 1965 showed that argument mapping leads to clearer writing.
  • A study conducted in 1965 identified improvements to writing following argument mapping.

Reporting verbs not followed by that are usually followed by a noun phrase. Unfortunately there is no strategy to determine which verbs require that and which do not. You just have to memorise them. The best way to acquire useful reporting verbs is by reading journal articles and academic text books. To get you started, here is a list of common reporting verbs followed by that:

admit agree argue assume
believe claim conclude consider
decide deny determine discover
doubt explain hypothesize imply
indicate infer maintain prove
presume reveal show state

Stress caused by the word ‘stress’

The rapid pace of modern life is what causes most people to get stress.

Collocation! For a stress-free life (and for a higher IELTS score for vocabulary), use one of the following instead:

  • The rapid pace of modern life is what causes most people to experience stress.
  • The rapid pace of modern life is what causes most people to suffer stress.
  • The rapid pace of modern life is what causes most people to suffer from stress.
  • The rapid pace of modern life is what causes most people to feel stressed.
  • The rapid pace of modern life is stressful.

Take a look at some sentences using ‘stress’ and try to identify common collocations. Remember that stress can be a noun as well as a verb, and it also has different forms: stressful, stressed.

Advanced students can consult this comprehensive collocation table for stress.

Above all, try not to become too stressed out by ‘stress’.

Fighting crime(s)

The government need to make more of an effort to fight crimes.

Crime can be countable or uncountable, and as with other nouns that behave like this, the uncountable form has a more general meaning and the countable more specific.

Another way to look at this is to notice that fight and crime (without ‘s’) collocate strongly:

  • The government need to make more of an effort to fight crime.

Try googling fight crime and fight crimes. Which is more common? What are the differences in meaning? 

It will likely blah!

Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it will likely to decline slightly.

Another collocation problem. Use one of the following instead and never mind why. Just do it.

  • Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it is likely to decline slightly.
  • Population is indeed growing, but after 2050 it will most likely decline slightly.

And make sure you complete the structure with a verb:

  • s.th. / s.o. + is likely to + V1
  • s.th. / s.o. will most likely + V1

Research and Researches

Several researches have proven that nuclear energy is not as dangerous as people think.

Actually there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this. I just looks odd to a native speaker because research is nearly always uncountable:

  • Much research has proven that nuclear energy is not as dangerous as people think.

Investigate the differences between research and researches. Then try googling to see which form of the word is more common.

Having the right to rights

The principle of the social services is that people have rights to live happily and without discrimination.

I know, I know. You mention more than one right. Normally your teacher would be yelling at you to add an ‘s’. But this is a vocabulary/collocation issue.

  • The principle of the social services is that people have the right to live happily and without discrimination.

Indonesian flag You can think of it as a phrasal verb (Indonesians will be translating berhak untuk..). Sometimes it’s have the right to + V1. Sometimes have a right to + V1. 

Try googling “have the right to” and then “have rights to”. Which is more common? Which is the meaning that you want?