Top Tips for IELTS

Use relative clauses better

This lesson follows the lesson on how to get the grammar of relative clauses right. The aim this time is to show you some of the ways you can use relative clauses to improve the quality of your writing. The key points are:

good use of relatives can help grammar, vocabulary and cohesion

there are two types of relative clause

the types of relative clauses are used in two different ways – to be precise and to add interest/detail

Relative clauses can improve your writing in 3 ways

The first step is to see that relative clauses help link your writing together – this will be excellent for your coherence and cohesion score as well as your grammar. They help you if you normally write with a number of short sentences.

Look at these two examples:

Example A

All the grammar and vocabulary here is correct. The sentences do link together but there are some very short sentences and there is little variety in grammatical structure. Not bad. Could do better.

A lot of people believe that cities should have more parks. Citizens should be able enjoy the natural environment better. Currently, many city dwellers have no opportunity to see trees, plants and birds and have no space to exercise. It is important because they would improve the quality of their life. For example, both old people and children would benefit from a place to exercise safely and breathe clean air at the same time.

Example B

This is still not perfect. It is though a good deal better. You should see that the relative clauses (in blue and red) do three things:

  1. they link some sentences together improving cohesion and coherence
  2. they  improve the range of grammar (it is not all and and because now)
  3. they allow me to add more detail that’s good for vocabulary

A lot of people believe that cities should have more parks which would allow citizens  to enjoy the natural environment better. Currently, many city dwellers have no opportunity to see trees, plants and birds and have no space to exercise, which is another benefit of open spaces in urban areas. Both of these are important because they would improve the quality of life for people who often suffer from not having a pleasant environment. For example, both old people and children would benefit from a place to exercise safely and breathe clean air at the same time.

To use relative clauses better, understand what they do

If you want to use relative clauses well, you need to see that there are different types of relative clause and they do different jobs.

Defining relatives clauses

These say exactly what you are writing about. This is good for academic writing, where a key a skill is to be precise and accurate. Look at the two examples below in red. In the first one the which explains precisely why cities should have more parks.  I have simply joined my first and second sentences together.

A lot of people believe that cities should have more parks which would allow citizens  to enjoy the natural environment better.

The second one does the same job. The who explains precisely which people I am thinking of. Very academic. This time I have not joined sentences together. I have added detail in. I just asked myself the question “which people?”.

Both of these are important because they would improve the quality of life for people who often suffer from not having a pleasant environment.

Learn the skill

Look at shorter sentences and ask yourself if you can join them together.

Look at ideas and words and ask whether you can define what you mean more precisely.

Extra information relative clauses

These are used differently and have slightly different grammar. The idea with these is that you are just adding more detail in. This is good for your vocabulary score and makes your writing more interesting to read. See the example in blue below. I don’t need to say this bit, but I think it makes it more interesting. It also gives me the chance to use words like benefit and open spaces and that is great for my vocabulary score.

Currently, many city dwellers have no opportunity to see trees, plants and birds and have no space to exercise, which is another benefit of open spaces in urban areas.

Learn the skill

Think about detail – decide if there is anything else you can add

Often these type of relatives can replace and. If you write and a lot, decide if you can use which/who instead

Warning – don’t overuse relative clauses

You can have too much of a good thing. Do not use loads of relatives.  They make your writing more complex, but also harder to read. Here are two general guidelines:

only one relative clause per sentence

don’t use relative clauses in every sentence

The perfect paragraph should combine the simple with the complex. In IELTS writing you are aiming for a range of grammar, not the same bit of grammar all the time – even if it is useful as relative clauses.

Simple exercise

Go look at one of your old essays. Find a paragraph and do this

  • look if you have any relatives there
  • if you find none – that is a problem – see how you could put some in
  • if you find lots – that too is a problem probably – see how you can take some out
  • if you find a few (2-4) then check that you have used them well. Are they precise? Do they add interest or detail?

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3 Responses to Use relative clauses better

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