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10 Common IELTS Grammar Mistakes to Avoid


Understand Studying Methods, Grammar & IELTS

Last year, a student came to my IELTS classes after having failed his IELTS exam 15 times.

YES, 15 TIMES! Yes, that's SHOCKING indeed!

However, that's not surprising at all. Over the years of teaching IELTS, I've encountered many students who have  failed their IELTS exams many times before coming to my classes.

When I asked them what they did to improve their score, 90% of them said that they just kept practicing.

More Practice Does Not Mean You Will Improve!

The problem with constant "practice" is that if you do not correct your bad writing or speaking habits, and you are not learning good English through your practices, you will end up reinforcing these bad habits.

You are actually becoming better at BAD English!

Well, you may improve in fluency through the practices. BUT here's the thing...

If you do not address your errors, that is not going to help you improve overall. Eventually you will keep getting the same grades (over and over again), until you lose confidence and hope of a better future.

The trick is not to practice a lot, but to PRACTICE SMART.

Biggest Kept Studying Secret

Follow me for a while...

Having taught IELTS for more than 5 years - teaching in language schools, giving one-to-one private tuition full-time and then finally starting my own IELTS school - I have to say that ONE OF THE BIGGEST KEPT SECRETS that very few schools or teachers will tell you is the important role grammar plays in passing the IELTS exam, especially in Writing and Speaking.

The truth is that very few IELTS classes pay any attention to improving one's grammar. Why? Probably because it is very difficult to improve one's grammar. However, that is not a very good excuse because my many years of IELTS-teaching experience has taught me something. It taught me that many students fail IELTS because they do not have the required standard of grammar.

Therefore, the Biggest Kept Studying Method is not practicing a lot, but it means focusing on the right areas in order to improve. And very often,  those who fail their Writing and Speaking need to spend quite a bit of time improving their grammar. Once they have done that then can they practice a lot. 

The Required Standard Of Grammar To Get 7.0

Not many students know this but IELTS has provided the criteria students would need to attain in order to get 7.0.

Pay attention to the part I have underlined in red.

And here is the criteria for Speaking:

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Do you see that in order to get 7.0 for Writing and Speaking, you need to "produce frequent error-free sentences"? That means many of your sentences need to contain NO grammatical error. 

Why Grammar Is So Difficult

Do you know why it is so difficult to improve your grammar? That is because for most students, it has already become a habit to write or speak with grammar mistakes. You may have spent many years speaking English and because you did not have a good English teacher who corrected your mistakes, you have grown to accept writing and speaking the way you do - with all your mistakes.

Also, when you write or speak with grammar mistakes, people still understand you. Therefore, there is no incentive to change the way you write or speak as you can still communicate with people. Making small mistakes will not cause people to misunderstand you. They will still understand what you're trying to say. And they will not correct your mistakes because it is rude to do so.

Correcting your grammar is going to be challenging as you are fighting against many years of habit. But for many of you, it is necessary that you work on your grammar IF you want to pass your IELTS exam.

10 Common IELTS Grammar Mistakes & Answers!

If you are someone who get stuck at 6.5 even though you take the exam over and over again, you most likely need to work on your grammar.

In my classes, I spend more than 5 hours on Grammar. Many students tell me that they have never learned so much grammar before and they have improved a lot through my teaching on grammar. I go more in-depth and even show my students how to do self-check using free online resources, but in this article with limited space available, I am only going to address these 10 mistakes quickly:

1. Word Class: The main word classes to learn "Noun", "Verb", "Adjective", "Adverb", "Preposition" and "Conjunction". Very often students do not use the correct word class that is needed.

Take this sentence:

(X) "The lost of Mr. Lee was clearly felt in the country."

The mistake is that "lost" is an adjective (or a verb in the past simple tense), but the writer should have used  the noun version, "loss".

The correct sentence is:

(✓) "The loss of Mr. Lee was clearly felt in the country."

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2. Subject-Verb Agreement (SVA): This means that the subject and the verb have to "agree" with each other. If a singular noun is used, make sure the verb is also in singular form.

​In the present simple tense, when the subject is in the third person singular form – i.e. he/she/it – there needs to be an “s” behind the verb. 

What's wrong with the following sentence?

(X) "The increase in taxes have upset many citizens."

Do not confuse "taxes" and think that the verb should take a plural form, "have". This is wrong. The noun phrase is actually "The increase in taxes", with the main noun as "increase", which is singular.

(✓) "The increase in taxes has upset many citizens."

3. Tenses: There are about 12 tenses in all. However, the 3 most common tenses one needs to master in IELTS are the "present simple", "present continuous" and "past simple" tenses.

What is wrong with this sentence?

(X) "Some people argued that mobile phones do more harm than good."

The mistake is with the word "argued". This is in the "past simple" tense. However, because people STILL believe that mobile phones do more harm that good, we should be using the "present simple" tense.

Thus, this is the correct sentence:

(✓) "Some people argue that mobile phones do more harm than good."

4. Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns: Nouns can be “countable” or “uncountable”, depending on its meaning. For countable nouns, you can use “a/an”, a number (1/2/3), or the “s” version with the noun – e.g. you can say a cat, two cats. 

However, for uncountable nouns, you will not be able to use “a/an”, a number (1/2/3) or the “s” version with the noun – e.g. you can’t say a sugar, two sugars. The difficulty is in knowing which noun is countable and which is uncountable.

See if you know what's wrong with this sentence:

(X) "We need two luggages for the trip."

Weird as it seems, the word "luggage" is uncountable in English. Therefore, you cannot say "luggages".

Here's the correct sentence:

(✓) "We need two pieces of luggage for this trip" or "We need some luggage for this trip."

5. Plural Nouns for "generalisation": When talking about a countable noun in general, it is important to put the noun in plural form - i.e. with the "s".

What's the mistake in this sentence:

(X) "Cigarette causes cancer."

Because we are making a general statement which is true most of the time, we should use "cigarettes" in the plural form, and not "cigarette":

(✓) "Cigarettes cause cancer."

6. Punctuation of Conjunctions and Adverbs: Students often confuse the punctuation of an adverb with that of a conjunction. When using “conjunctions”, you need to use it to connect two clauses within a sentence. On the other hand, when you use “adverbs”, you normally use it to begin a new sentence.

What is wrong with this?

(X) "I am happy. So I went out to celebrate."

In the sentence, "so" is a conjunction. Therefore, you should not use it to begin a new sentence . You would use it to connect two clauses within a sentence like this:

(✓) "I am happy so I went out to celebrate."

7. Modal Verbs: Modal Verbs are verbs like "will", "would", "may", "might", "shall", "should", "can", "could", "must", etc. A very common mistake by students is something like this:

(X) "The government should to provide a good home for everyone."

What's wrong? The verb that comes after the modal verb should always be in "base" form. That is, it should not have "ed", "ing" or "s" after the verb, nor have "to" before it. So the correct version should be:

(✓) "The government should to provide a good home for everyone."

8. Articles: There are two types of articles - the definite article (the) and the indefinite article (a/an). Definite articles tell you that the noun is specific (Please give me THE apple). You know which noun you are referring to. On the contrary, indefinite articles are unspecific (e.g. Please give me AN apple).

This is one of the most difficult grammar points to grasp, if not the most difficult.

There is a missing article in the sentence below. Do you know where it should be placed? 

(X) "The government should launch campaign to raise awareness about this issue."

The writer should put "a" before "campaign" because an article is needed before a singular countable noun that is not specific.

The correct sentence is:

(✓) "The government should launch a campaign to raise awareness about this issue."

9. The Passive Voice: The passive voice is used when you want to focus on the “receiver of the action” and not the “doer of the action”. For Academic IELTS takers, the “Process” question in Writing Task 1 requires you to understand and use the passive voice.

Take this mistake as an example:

(X) "Children need to teach the correct way to behave in public."

The mistake is that this sentence needs to be in passive for it to make sense:

(✓) "Children need to be taught the correct way to behave in public."

10. Sentence Structure: There are many different kinds of sentence structure mistakes. Such mistakes are very serious as they are obvious and cause great difficulty in understanding to the reader.

Can you spot the missing noun in the following sentence?

(X) "These tourists are handed over to the police and charge them with hefty fines.”

The mistake is that the above sentence does not make sense. It is saying that the "tourists" charge "them", but how can the tourists charge themselves? This is what happens if you leave the subject out.

This is how you can correct the sentence by adding in the appropriate subject:

(✓) "These tourists are handed over to the police and the police charge them with hefty fines."

OR you can use the passive voice if you are confident of doing so:

(✓)
"These tourists are handed over to the police and are charged with hefty fines."

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