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Writing
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Sentence Forms

The types of sentence structures used are a key element IELTS examiners look at when assessing IELTS Writing Task 1 and 2 answers, for Grammatical Range & Accuracy (GRA).

Specifically, GRA determines the band score according to the complexity of the sentences used. Scripts consisting mostly of simple sentences will be rated at a lower level than where more complex sentence structures are also used. The accuracy of more complex structures will also have an influence.

Simple sentences include short sentences with a single clause and compound sentences, often linked by conjunctions, such as and, but, so, but can be connected by a comma or semicolon. Compound sentences will contain at least one coordinating clause. These coordinating clauses are not subordinated to the main clause and can stand alone.

‘These trousers are perfect for me, but the more affordable trousers are very old fashioned.’

Subordinate means to be of a lower level, specifically in GRA it means a clause that cannot stand alone as a sentence. If the clauses of a sentence are coordinating and could be used to form their own sentence, then no matter how long or apparently complicated, it will still be assessed as a simple sentence.

From the above example, we can create two separate sentences.

‘These trousers are perfect for me.’

‘The more affordable trousers are very old fashioned.’

Complex sentences contain a subordinate clause. These are typically linked to the main sentence by conjunctions, such as if, until, when where, what, because, etc. Unlike with the previous coordinating clauses, subordinate clauses cannot stand alone and have to be attached to a main clause.

‘These trousers are perfect until you look at the price tag, which is unbelievably high!’

The above sentence has the same number of words as the previous simple sentence, but the second clause is subordinate to the first. In other words, it needs the first clause to be there, and cannot exist, as a sentence, on its own.

Regarding sentence structures, the higher GRA band descriptors refer to the script containing a mix, wide range or variety. Lower levels, however, talk about limited ranges, errors being predominant.

The task does not require all sentences to be complex, at the higher levels. A mix of both types is required, and they need to be used accurately.

Remember that sentence length does not determine sentence type. The key is to remember to use subordinate clauses, where possible. However, anyone who struggles with this should create some long sentences, as the examiner sometimes, when under pressure, or tired may mistake them for complex sentences.

Note: IELTS treats sentence structures more simply than many textbooks or grammar websites. Basically, for IELTS Writing there are only simple and complex sentences, as outlined above. The use of one subordinate clause makes it a complex sentence. It is that simple!

However, for band above level 6, it is necessary to go beyond having some sentences with one subordinate clause.

Useful Websites.

grammar revolution

infoplease

esl

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