Unreasonable use of ‘reason’

The reasons that caused land degradation are shown in the pie chart.

One problem here is that reason is closely synonymous with cause, and so it’s as though you’re saying:

  • ..the causes that caused land degradation!”

Another problem is that reason has stronger collocates:

  • The reasons for land degradation are shown in the pie chart.
  • reason(s) + for + effect(s) noun
  • The reasons why land became degraded are shown in the pie chart.
  • reason(s) + why + effect(s) clause

Notice that in these last two examples there is no cause effect signal (cause). If you use a cause effect signal then you need a more suitable substitute word for the cause or reason:

  • The factors that caused land degradation are shown in the pie chart.
  • The conditions that led to land degradation are shown in the pie chart.

In your IELTS Task 1 essay you will go on to name and describe factors and conditions, and this is easier to do elegantly if you call them ‘factors’ and ‘conditions’ than if you call them ‘reasons’.

Chicken because egg because chicken

Earth hour can have a significant impact on our planet. Because much can be achieved when people work together towards a shared goal.

I’ve posted about because before – here, here, and here. It’s such a common word and so you should make a special effort to use it correctly. Incorrect use can have a negative effect on your IELTS speaking and writing scores! Continue reading

Since A is true, B is true

Since young people want to be considered independent humans. They try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

This student is experimenting with alternatives for because but has found herself in hot water. There are two possible improvements:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent humans, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.
    [since + cause sentence + comma + effect sentence]
  • Young people try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well, since they want to be considered independent humans.
    [effect sentence + comma + since + cause sentence]

In both of these examples, since is indeed an exact synonym for because, and so is as. However, as and since are more likely to appear at the beginning of a sentence, whereas because is more common after a comma:

because since as
after comma beginning of sentence beginning of sentence

Returning to our opening example, we could also get rid of the word humans since it is clear we’re not talking about aliens or rocks:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

Indonesian flag The over-use of the word human may be cultural. See here, here and here.

Global warming cause effect

Climate change is a depressing topic, but it provides us with a rich source of cause effect language that we can borrow and use in our IELTS speaking and writing.

Some world leaders continue to deny that human activity is to blame for global warming, but the following text argues that humans are in fact largely responsible.

The text features some quite sophisticated cause effect signals. Try the gapfill and be sure to review alternative answers mentioned in the answer key (available after submitting answers). Continue reading

Wrong because of ‘because’

People in my office know me as a person who knows about computer because my background study.

In my experience students usually get this wrong because of because of!

When you use cause effect signals, you need to think about how each signal behaves with either a cause or an effect. Because ‘behaves’ as follows: Continue reading

Due to bad grammar!

This problem occurs due to people throw waste into the irrigation system.

Ok well it’s nice to use an alternative to because, but a change of cause effect signal can often mean a change of grammar.

Because

The grammar for because is familiar to most people:

Prices increased because demand increased.

In this structure, Prices increased is an independent clause (= it can stand alone as a sentence), and demand increased is also an independent clause.

We could also think of this structure as:

because + cause sentence

Due to

The grammar for due to is slightly different:

Prices increased due to an increase in demand.

In this case Prices increased is an independent clause, while an increase in demand is a noun (or noun phrase).

Again, this structure could also be thought of as:

due to + cause noun

Because of

Indonesian flag A common error is to treat because of in the same way as because. For example it is incorrect to say:

Prices increased because of demand increased.

Because of follows the same structure as due to:

Prices increased because of an increase in demand.

Review

So, let’s review these three cause effect signals:

  • Prices increased because demand increased. (because + cause sentence)
  • Prices increased because of an increase in demand. (because of + cause noun)
  • Prices increased due to an increase in demand. (due to + cause noun)

And if we apply these to our opening example then we get:

  • This problem occurs because people throw waste into the irrigation system.
  • This problem occurs because of the irresponsible behaviour of people who throw waste into the irrigation system.
  • This problem occurs due to the irresponsible behaviour of people who throw waste into the irrigation system.

Using a combination of these in your IELTS speaking and writing will help to increase your scores in all criteria.

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.

Make me ______!

Routine activities make our hearts are happy.

Indonesian flag I’m not sure why Indonesian students run into problems with make, especially when make is tied to an adjective –  as it is in this example. The Indonesian structure is exactly the same as the English:

verb noun adjective
Indonesian flag membuat orang senang
Union Jack make someone happy

Buat orang senang = Make someone happy = Make + noun + adjective

  • Routine activities make our hearts happy.

Of course make can also be tied to a verb:

  • She made me do it!

In this case you need the structure:

  • subject + make + object + V1

So, make is actually easier to use than you might think:

  • She makes me happy (adj).
  • She makes me laugh (v).

Big cows because big horse

Indonesian flag In Bahasa Indonesia words are pronounced the way they are spelled. This often leads to some humorous mispronunciations when Indonesians apply the same rule to English.

It’s a good idea to try and overcome this problem, especially in words and phrases commonly used in IELTS Speaking. One such word is ‘because‘.

If we say ‘because‘ as it is spelled, then it sounds like:

  • big cows

However, when a native speaker says ‘because‘, it sounds very much like:

  • big horse

So, next time you want to say ‘because‘, say ‘big horse‘.