IELTS® Writing: Grammar Rules

The following rules cover common areas of difficulty in IELTS Task 1 and Task 2 essays (both Academic and General Training). Although Grammar technically counts for only 25% of the overall mark, and you will not be directly tested on or required to use particular constructions, you must be able to demonstrate a solid understanding of the conventions of standard written English to achieve a Band 7 score or higher.

Note that although these rules are aligned with the format of the IELTS, they are also generally applicable to TOEFL Writing.

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1. Standard Spacing with Punctuation

 

Full stops/periods, commas, and semicolons are placed right after a word, with one space before the following word.

 

Correct: In reality, money does not always lead to happiness.

Incorrect: In reality,money does not always lead to happiness.

Incorrect: In reality , money does not always lead to happiness.

Incorrect: In reality ,money does not always lead to happiness.

 

 

2. Always capitalize:

 

  • The first word in a sentence
  • The word I
  • Names of specific people, places, and things

 

Correct: I’ve left a spare key to the house with my brother Robert.

Correct: He’s worked at Infosys in Bangalore for the last three years.

 

Do NOT capitalize other nouns, or the first word after a comma/semicolon.

 

Incorrect: People should make an Effort to eat healthy food.

Incorrect: In fact, Many people successfully lose weight.

 

 

3. Contractions and Abbreviations
Contracted forms, e.g., don’t, isn’t = informal; do not use in Task 1 AT or Task 2 essays

 

Correct: When people earn a university degree, they are more likely to obtain a high-paying job.

Incorrect: When people earn a university degree, they’re more likely to obtain a high-paying job.

 

Abbreviations are used only in the context of proper names, e.g., Dr. Smith (Am.) or Dr Smith (Br.). Do not write e.g., i.e.etc. in Task 2 or Task 1 AT essays.

Never use the ampersand (&) sign instead of writing and.

Phrasal verbs, especially with get, are associated with informal writing; single-word verbs are associated with formal writing (e.g., get up vs. awaken).

And absolutely no text speak (e.g., u, LOL)! 

 

 

4. Definite and Indefinite Articles 

 

A(n) = indefinite, indicates one of many; often used when a noun is first mentioned. 

Correct: Some people argue that living alone or in a small family is better than living in a large family.

Incorrect: Some people argue that living alone or in the small family is better than living in the large family.

Incorrect: Some people argue that living alone or in small family is better than living in large family.

 

Note that the plural of an is no article (“zero article”). This construction is used to describe a general situation. 

 

Correct: Some people argue that large families are better than small families.

Incorrect: Some people argue that the large families are better than the small families.

 

 

The = definite, indicates the only one

Correct: The current trend toward solitary living will likely cause demand for smaller housing units to increase. 

Incorrect: A current trend toward solitary living will likely cause demand for smaller housing units to increase. 

Incorrect: Current trend toward solitary living will likely cause demand for smaller housing units to increase. 

 

Must be used with the superlative form of an adjective (e.g., the best way), and is often used when a noun is mentioned again.

 

 

5. Articles with(out) Indefinite Pronouns

 

Few = almost no (one)
A few = several

Correct: Few people believe that children should be allowed unlimited amounts of junk food. = almost no one believes this

 

Correct: A few researchers have suggested that eating foods low in acid help people lose weight. = several (a small number of) researchers have suggested this

 

The majority

Correct: The majority of dieters have difficulty losing weight.

Incorrect: Majority of dieters have difficulty losing weight.

 

A number of (=many)

Correct: A number of dieters have difficulty losing weight.

Incorrect: Number of dieters have difficulty losing weight.

 

 

6. Focus on correct usage rather than obscure or “high-level” words; when paraphrasing, use only synonyms whose meanings you are absolutely certain of

 

Correct: I believe that governments should direct more funding toward the arts, as museums, theatres, and concert halls benefit society in many important ways.

 

Avoid: The most conspicuous reason which reinforces my perception is that arts, theatre, and music aid in the extension of society in a plethora of manners.

 

 

7. Linking devices = formulas; do not alter them to sound more original

 

Correct: First(ly), e-commerce threatens the health of local businesses.

Incorrect: At the outset, e-commerce threatens the health of local businesses.

 

 

8. Two sentences must be separated by period/full stop or a semicolon, NOT a comma

 

A clause that begins with a conjunctive adverb (e.g., however, therefore, thus, moreover) is independent. The adverb follows a period/full stop or semicolon is and is followed by a comma 

The two main adverbs to know are however and therefore.

Correct: Studying in a foreign country has many advantages. However, it also has some drawbacks. 

Correct: Studying in a foreign country has many advantages; however, it also has some drawbacks. 

Incorrect: Studying in a foreign country has many advantages, however, it also has some drawbacks. 

Incorrect: Studying in a foreign country has many advantages however; it also has some drawbacks. 

 

Pronoun as Subject (e.g., it, theyI)

A sentence that begins with a pronoun is grammatically equivalent to a sentence that begins with a noun: Cigarettes affect smokers’ health They affect smokers’ health.

 

Correct: Cigarettes affect smokers’ health. They also affect the health of bystanders.

Correct: Cigarettes affect smokers’ health; they also affect the health of bystanders.

Incorrect: Cigarettes affect smokers’ health, they also affect the health of bystanders.

 

 

9. Two consecutive clauses should not both begin with a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, but, so) or a subordinating conjunction (e.g., although, while, as)

 

Correct: Although e-commerce has many benefits, it also poses a threat to many small businesses.

Correct: E-commerce has many benefits, but it also poses a threat to many small businesses.

Incorrect: Although e-commerce has many benefits, but it also poses a threat to many small businesses.

 

 

10. Modal verb (e.g., can, should, might, must) + bare infinitive

 

(Exception: ought + full infinitive)

 

Correct: Technology can help society in many ways.

Incorrect: Technology can helps society in many ways.

Incorrect: Technology can to help society in many ways.

Incorrect: Technology can helped society in many ways.

 

 

11. Request, recommend, and suggest + (that) + subject + bare infinitive

 

Correct: The technician suggested (that) my friend restart the laptop.

Incorrect: The technician suggested my friend to restart the laptop.

Incorrect: The technician suggested my friend restarts the laptop.

 

12. Present Perfect:

 

Since + Starting Time 

Correct: Since the early 2000s, the Internet has played an increasingly prominent role in many people’s lives.

Incorrect: Since the early 2000s, the Internet plays an increasingly prominent role in many people’s lives.

 

For/Over + Duration

Correct: For/Over the past century, antibiotics have played a crucial role in preventing and curing many common infections.

Incorrect: For/Over the past century, antibiotics play a crucial role in preventing and curing many common infections.

Incorrect: For/Over the past century, antibiotics played a crucial role in preventing and curing many common infections.

 

13. Simple Past vs. Past Perfect

Simple past = finished action
Past perfect = finished action that came before a second action

 

Use the simple past with a “limiting” date or time (e.g., yesterday, last year, 2007).

Correct: I am unable to attend the meeting because I was in a car accident this morning.

Incorrect: I am unable to attend the meeting because I have been in a car accident this morning.

 

Past Perfect = finished action that came before a second action

Correct: The shop clerk claimed that the coat had been cleaned thoroughly, but when I arrived home, I saw that it was still dirty.

Incorrect: The shop clerk claimed that the coat had been cleaned thoroughly, but when I had arrived home, I saw that it was still dirty.

 

 

14. Will vs. Would

Will = future
Would = hypothetical actions; polite form, used for requests

 

Future

Correct: I will read the report tomorrow morning.

Incorrect: I would read the report tomorrow morning.

BUT: 

Correct: I would read the report tomorrow morning, BUT I will be in a meeting until 1pm.

 

Request

Correct: I would like to request some information regarding scholarships.

Incorrect: I will like to request some information regarding scholarships.

 

 

15. When or if + present-tense verb, not future tense

 

Correct: When I will go to Canada next year, I will visit Toronto and Montreal.

Incorrect: When I go to Canada next year, I will visit Toronto and Montreal.

 

 

16. 3rd-person singular verbs end in -s; 3rd-person plural verbs do NOT end in -s

 

Correct: Genetic engineering is beneficial because it it allows parents to prevent their children from being born with a serious hereditary disease.

 

Incorrect: Genetic engineering is beneficial because it it allow parents to prevent their children from being born with a serious hereditary disease.

 

Errors often occur  when the verb immediately follows that. The verb must agree with the noun before that.

 

Correct: Genetic engineering is a technology (sing.) that allows (sing.) parents to prevent their children from being born with a serious hereditary disease.

 

Incorrect: Genetic engineering is a technology (sing.) that allow (pl.) parents to prevent their children from being born with a serious hereditary disease.

 

Know also:

  • Gerunds (-ing forms) = singular, e.g., Reading magazines is one of my hobbies.
  • Indefinite pronouns with any, every, and no = singular, e.g., Everyone knows that people must consume fewer calories in order to lose weight.

 

 

17. One + singular noun; One of the + plural noun

 

Correct: One effect of global warming is the disappearance of many plant and animal species.

Correct: One of the effects of global warming is the disappearance of many plant and animal species.

Incorrect: One of the effect of global warming is the disappearance of many plant and animal species.

 

 

18. It and They

 

Singular noun = it; Plural noun = they

Correct: The iphone is among the world’s most popular devices: it can be found virtually everywhere on the planet.

Incorrect: The iphone is among the world’s most popular devices: they can be found virtually everywhere on the planet.

 

Correct: Fad diets are very popular, but they can also be quite dangerous.

Incorrect: Fad diets are very popular, but it can also be quite dangerous.

 

It’s = it is; Its = possessive form of it

Correct: The laptop worked perfectly for several hours, but then its screen suddenly went blank.

Incorrect: The laptop worked perfectly for several hours, but then it’s (= it is) screen suddenly went blank.

 

 

19. No comma before or after that

 

Correct: Some people believe that consumers should make more of an effort to buy from independent shops.

Incorrect: Some people believe, that consumers should make more of an effort to buy from independent shops.

Incorrect: Some people believe that, consumers should make more of an effort to buy from independent shops.

 

 

20. Indirect questions:

 

  • “Question” word such as whowhatwhy appears in the middle of the statement
  • Uses a period/full stop
  • Verb follows subject

 

Correct: It is unclear why some people are able to eat an unhealthy diet without gaining weight.

Incorrect: It is unclear why are some people able to eat an unhealthy diet without gaining weight?

 

 

21. Nouns acting as adjectives are never made plural

 

Correct: One of my favo(u)rite dishes is lentil soup.

Incorrect: One of my favo(u)rite dishes is lentils soup.

 

22. Comparatives and Superlatives:

 

  • 1-syllable adjectives & 2-syllable adjectives ending in -y: -er/-est
  • All other adjectives: more/most + adjective

 

Correct: My new apartment is larger than my old one.

Incorrect: My new apartment is more large than my old one.

Incorrect: My new apartment is more larger than my old one.

 

23. Advice, furniture, information, infrastructure, research = uncountable

 

  • Not used with a(n)
  • Not made plural

 

Correct: Whenever I have a problem, I ask my best friend for help because he always gives good advice.

Incorrect: Whenever I have a problem, I ask my best friend for help because he always gives a good advice.

 

Correct: In my opinion, governments should devote more money to improving and developing infrastructure.

Incorrect: In my opinion, governments should devote more money to improving and developing infrastructures.

 

 

24. Fewer, many modify countable nouns; less, much modify uncountable nouns

 

Correct: Today, many people prefer to do their shopping online.

Incorrect: Today, much people prefer to do their shopping online.

 

In addition, much cannot modify an adjective; use so or very + adjective.

Correct: I was so happy to hear that you were coming to visit.

Correct: I was very happy to hear that you were coming to visit.

Incorrect: I was so much happy to hear that you were coming to visit.

 

 

25. Prepositions/Idioms:

 

I’m looking forward to + -ing form

Correct: I’m looking forward to receiving your response!

Incorrect: I’m looking forward to receive your response!

Note that to functions as an independent preposition rather than part of an infinitive. As a result, the -ing form can be used.

 

On + day or next + day, NOT on next + day

Correct: I’d love to come to the party next Saturday, but unfortunatelyI already have plans.

Incorrect: I’d love to come to the party on next Saturday, but unfortunately I already have plans.

 

Considered (to be) + noun

Correct: Pelé is considered (to be) one of the greatest football players in history.

Incorrect: Pelé is considered as one of the greatest football players in history.