Top Tips for IELTS

Different types of clauses

This is a special lesson. It is based around my daily word activity. Today though it is more about grammar – thinking about different types of clauses.  More than that, it is about how to improve your grammar.

There is an exercise at the end that is one of my favourite exercises. It can be truly great for learning. I  find it is an interesting way to learn better grammar and grammar does tend to be boring. If you do it, please post your replies here as comments.

Today’s daily word is



This is one of the more technical words on the academic word list and is used chiefly for describing language (think grammar) and in law (think contracts). Put very simply, a clause is a part of a sentence with a main verb, or a part of  a contract.

A very quick guide to English sentence grammar!!

There are a number of different types of clause in English. It may help your grammar to look through this (incomplete) list. You don’t really need to know the names, but you definitely want to understand the ideas – good writing (and speaking) involves being able to write (and speak) in different ways. This is why IELTS is marked for range of grammar (different structures you use) and not just for accuracy of grammar (how many mistakes you make).

main clause: This is a clause that is enough by itself – it can also be a sentence. This is the simplest type of sentence – that doesn’t mean it is to be avoided – simple things should be stated simply.

I like playing online poker.

co-ordinate clause: This is a clause when you link two ideas together in a fairly simple way. You really need to make sure you can master these before you move on. The keys words are and but or so yet nor or for. The idea behind all these words are that they give equal emphasis to both parts of the sentence:

I like playing online poker and I enjoy doing crosswords too. [Both my poker habit and my crossword habit are equally important]

subordinate clauses: These are sort of the opposite to co-ordinate clauses. They are more complex to make, but equally important. The difference is that in a subordinate clause one part of the sentence is more important than the other. This is a vital bit of language because it gives you new ways to join ideas together. That’s good. There are loads of key words here. You should recognise these ones as a start: because, while, if, since, as, though, unless, in order that, provided that and the list goes on

I like playing online poker because I sometimes win money!

concessive clauses: These are more complex clauses. This time you add another idea – a different idea. You need to master this type of clause because it allows you to join up your writing. Key words here are but although however although while etc

While I like playing online poker, I enjoy reading and writing even more.

Although I like playing online poker, I know that it is not entirely healthy.

relative clause: This is another way to join two ideas together. Just to confuse you, there are two types of relative clause. Why? Because we can join ideas together in two different ways.

defining relative clause: This is when you state exactly what you mean – this is very academic and so you should master this skill. The key words here are who when  which that etc

I enjoy playing online poker which is the form of poker found on internet sites. [I’m explaining what online poker is if you didn’t know – this type of clause you need for explaining]

extra information relative clause: This is when you just say something more – something extra that you can take out and the sentence still makes sense. One way to think of this is that you could brackets ( ) around the clause. We don’t do that in English, we use commas , , but the idea is the same.

I enjoy playing online poker,  which is one of my worse habits, but I enjoy crosswords even more. [I’m just saying something else here – trying to be more interesting]

I enjoy playing online poker but I enjoy crosswords even more. [This still makes sense even though I have taken the clause out]

I enjoy playing online poker, (which is one of my worse habits)  but I enjoy crosswords even more.[This shows you how the punctuation works]


Do an exercise

Improving your range of grammar is vital. Here is one way to do it. The key here is that you take a sentence/idea that is true for you. If you do that, then it will all mean more to you and then you are more likely to learn. Learning is about doing things that are interesting. I play online poker and do crosswords, you probably don’t!

1 Take a short sentence like I did:
I enjoy playing online poker

2. Make a co-ordinate clause, just add something using and but etc

3. Now make a subordinate clause. Start simply with because, then try other ones. See how many you can make. Play with the language.

4. Now try a concessive clause. Just add a different idea using while etc. You should see now that you are making lots of different types of sentence. This is great for your grammar.

5. Try both types of relative clause: These are trickier because there are problems with word choice and punctuation. But for the time being, relax. We are aiming for variety for now. Accuracy can come later. Grammar is not just about getting it right, it’s also about doing different things.

More help

If all this was Greek to you – a nice idiom meaning you didn’t understand it at all – try these great explanations of subordinate and co-ordinate clauses. They come with free handouts and exercises:




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7 Responses to Different types of clauses

  1. zara March 19, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Learning with a personalised touch and i believe it’s more meaningful doing it this way!
    Thanks heaps Dominic, I loved it and it feels being more empowered about the language!

  2. Dominic Cole March 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm #


    I like the idea behind this lesson and I think it is an idea worth spreading – make language personal to you and you will learn better.

    More than that, it’s great that you feel empowered. Language should be about empowerment – it’s one of those things that is most closely associated with our personal identities. Pretentious perhaps, but true enough I think.

  3. Ayaanle March 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Hi, Dominic

    1. I like learning a new Language.
    2. I like learning a new language, but I know it is not easy as some people might think.

    3. Learning a new language is really great for your development in life, because it may make your job opportunites easy.
    4. While there is no doubt that learning a new language could help you better in life, it needs to be invested so much energy, money and time.
    5. One of the most effective ways to improve yourself is to learn a new language, which is widely believed to be the one that might opens you the window of opportunity.

    I hope that I will be corrected by you.

    • Dominic Cole March 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      I’m happy and so should you be.

      2.”as easy as”
      3. Learning a new language is really great for your development in life because it may make it easier for you to find a job.
      4. While there is no doubt that learning a new language could help you better in life, it needs great deal of energy, money and time.

      Let mem correct these two for you – prize for commenting often! They also demonstrate a couple of problems that other can learn from.

      In 3 I have deleted the opportunities. Why? It simply reads better that way. English doesn’t like abstract nouns much, it much prefers verbs. “Find a job” may look simple, but it is also accurate. never be afraid of using simple, but accurate English. “Job opportunity” is also of course a good combination. We just don’t use it quite this way. Typically, companies/governments have/make/create job opportunities, people don’t have them. The general idea is that the longer the word, the more precise it becomes and the more careful you need to be in how you use it.

      4. is interesting to me as well.How confident were you that that was correct? My guess is that you were slightly uncertain. Maybe. Maybe not. One of my better bits of advice though is this – if you are uncertain, start again – it’s very hard for a learner to correct their own English. If you start again, my experience is that the second effort will work provided you use words you are confident of. the language may be less exciting, but it will be correct.

      Something else. See how I did correct it. I simply deleted some words. Again, it is surprising how effective “the big red pen” can be in correcting your own work. I should do a lesson on this on the site, rather than down here where it will get lost!

      5. That one works least well. Relatives are among the most difficult bits of grammar in the language – that’s why left them till last. One tip, it’s rarely a good idea to have two relatives in the same sentence. Here’s your homework. Try 5 again. This time aim for something simpler that you are confident of – even if that does mean two sentences.

      • amir April 15, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

        Thank you Dominic. Your points are great!

  4. Ayaanle March 20, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Hi, Dominic

    Most importantly, thank you so much for your correction.

    Certainly, I have written all the sentences confidently. It’s absolutely true that it’s very hard for a learner to correct their own English. Honestly, I’m going to take your valuable advice and I’m applying it to my writing sentences practice.

    Finally, I’m trying to repeat the question #5.

    The economic crises in 2008 has affected the lives of many poor people, who might get help from nowhere.

    The new technology has effectively transformed
    the education system, which is much easier nowadays to take almost every course at your location.

    Once again thanks for everything, Dominic.

  5. Phúc Hảo Lê Thị March 30, 2014 at 3:13 am #

    Hi, Mr Docminic Cole !

    I completely agree with you, If grammar uses more simple sentences, you will do accurate about vocabulary and structures. In addition, We use relative clauses in writing essays are very excellent and wonderful. Structures in sentences will more cohesion and fluently.

    Finally, linking paragraphs are also better than and get higher mark score.

    PHÚC HẢO Email :

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