Cohesion is a large part of your writing score in IELTS and definitely needs to be studied. It may seem technical or difficult. It needn’t be – it includes using some of the simplest words in English well. The idea here is to show you some of the ways you can use pronouns to make your writing flow better and easier to read – that’s what cohesion is. What you’ll find is a brief reminder of what pronouns are, some handy tips on how to use them to avoid common mistakes and a series of exercises to show you different ways you can use them to your advantage.
I would like to emphasise that a key to understanding cohesion is that it is absolutely not just a question of learning a list of linking phrases and using them at the beginning of each sentence. To understand this you may want to check out my introductory lesson on cohesion first, where you can also find a simple list of different ways to achieve cohesion.
What are pronouns and how do they work?
The first step is naturally to think about what pronouns are. Don’t let the name put you off, they are among the first words you learned in English and you use them all the time in any case. Perhaps the best way to show you what they are is if you try this quick exercise. I have written a short passage and taken the pronouns out – all you have to do is put them back in. As you work through the exercise you should note how:
- pronouns can link both different sentences and parts of the same sentence
- pronouns can help you avoid repetition
- pronouns do have some grammar too – so you need to be able to choose “they” or “their” for instance
- pronouns can refer back to one word or back to a whole group of words
Quick quiz on cohesion and pronouns
Quick pronoun review – some different ways pronouns can help you
Here are just a few of the ways in which pronouns can help you:
1. Personal pronouns and repetition
These are words such as” I” ” you”” he” etc. They are helpful because they allow you to avoid repetition and repetition when repeated too often can be a problem. Look at:
Some people believe that capital punishment is justified for the most serious crimes such as murder and crimes against humanity. These people say that …..
The repetition of people here is plain ugly. Much better is achieve coherence by using the pronoun”they”
Some people believe that capital punishment is justified for the most serious crimes such as murder and crimes against humanity. They say that …..
2. Demonstrative pronouns – for linking sentences
These are such as “this” “that” “these” and “those”. One of the best ways to use them is to link different sentences together. You can link forwards to the next sentence, even to something that may not be in the text, or you can link backwards. Here I’m concentrating just on that last idea – to make your writing cohesive you should aim to refer back to something you wrote before. Here’s an example from my essay on prisons:
The first set of circumstances when community work is the appropriate sanction is for less serious offences when the offender shows remorse for his actions. Part of the reason for this is that it may be wrong to take away someone’s livelihood by sending them to prison,
The idea here is that when you start a new sentence you want to make it easy for the reader/examiner to understand how it links to the previous sentence. Here the phrase Part of the reason for this shows the examiner that you are talking about the same thing as the previous sentence – the key word being this.
3. Relative pronouns – for joining different parts of sentences together
Relative pronouns are the “who”, “that”, “which”,”when” words. They are super useful for joining parts of sentences together. Look at this example:
These buildings are being replaced for a variety of reasons. These reasons largely depend on the original purpose of the building and the needs of the community.
The writing is cohesive with the “these”, but it is ugly. We can do better with a relative, try:
These buildings are being replaced for a variety of reasons which largely depend on the original purpose of the building and the needs of the community.
The writing is just as cohesive as before – only now the grammar is more sophisticated and we have avoided some needless repetition.
4. A top tip – old information comes first
A standard guideline is to start sentences with old information (from the previous sentence). If you do this (use old information first), you will almost certainly start to use pronouns like this in an intelligent way.
Some phrases to help you be more cohesive with pronouns
Sometimes the best way to learn how to use language is to learn a few phrases first. That can work here too. Try these for size:
Part of the reason for this is
This is because
One way of explaining this is
An interesting example of this is
(You might like to note how these phrases also help you write more coherently – that is linking your ideas together.)
Test yourself again
paragraph 1 – this exercise looks at the same paragraph as above. Your task is to put the paragraph back together again by looking at how the pronouns link the writing
paragraph 2 – this is a different type of exercise. This time I ask you to look at the little words in a short paragraph and try and put them back in. Not all of them are pronouns, but you should see how important this type of word is in your writing.
essay – this time I give you one of my essays to read and you have to complete some gaps by putting the pronouns back in. You should note here that some of the gaps include pronoun phrases.
Footnote – which isn’t really a footnote at all – does cohesion only apply to writing?
Certainly not. Cohesion is as much a part of the spoken language as it is the written language. Indeed, one of the best ways of thinking about cohesion is to think about the ways you link your spoken thoughts together – nearly all the techniques you use there also apply to writing. You use pronouns when you speak, right?