Top Tips for IELTS

Simple and complex sentences in IELTS paragraphs

In this lesson I look at one way to improve the way you write paragraphs for IELTS essays. The idea I’m going to try and sell you is that it helps to combine shorter and simpler sentences with more complex ones. This is to help you improve your grammar score and your cohesion and coherence score.

The slide below gives you the main idea

simple and complex sentences in IELTS


First understand the writing criteria

IELTS essays are marked according to strict guidelines and this includes the complexity of your sentences and how you use them to write coherent paragraphs.


For grammar you should see that from the public  version of the writing criteria

band 6  uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms

band 7 uses a variety of complex structures

band 8  uses a wide range of structures

The point to note here – despite the wording –  you shouldn’t  just use complex structures to get higher band scores. You need to mix simpler sentence structures with more complex ones.

Remember to use a variety of sentence structures and don’t be afraid to use some simpler ones


The connection of complex structures with coherence may be less obvious but it’s equally important. If you want the examiner to understand your ideas, you need to develop those ideas in paragraphs which are logically organised and coherent.  Part of this includes using shorter simpler sentences for main ideas and more complex ones for developing the ideas with reasons and examples.

The band score criteria show how important it is to develop logical paragraphs that are easy to follow:

band 6  arranges information and ideas coherently and there is a clear overall progression

band 7  logically organises information and ideas; there is clear progression throughout

band 8  sequences information and ideas logically

The point to note here is that you want to organise your paragraphs and that includes thinking about the sequence of sentences. The general guideline is to start off with main ideas simply expressed in topic sentences and then develop them in more complex sentences with reasons and examples.

Remember to organise your ideas in paragraphs
Put simpler ideas first
Develop those ideas in more complex sentences with reasons and examples

See what is simple and what is complex

Here are a few examples of simple and more complex sentences.  You could see that it is not just a question of sentence length but how the parts of the sentence work together. You’ll find links at the bottom of the page that explain simple, compound and complex sentences much more fully.


This is a simple sentence.

One main cause of this change is the trend for people to move home.

Slightly more complex (compound)

See how this example is quite long but that is just because I have used an “and”. The link between the two parts of the sentence is quite weak. You could even write them out as two separate sentences and not lose meaning. Longer sentences like this aren’t really complex in structure.

It is certainly true that the more people nowadays do not have a close relationship with their neighbours and this has weakened communities in our cities

More complex yet

Both these sentences are more complex. The idea here is that different parts of the sentence are dependent on each for meaning. You generally get to sentences like this by using connectors such as if and although

While it is unlikely that anything can be done about social mobility, it is possible for local authorities to encourage a greater sense of community by ensuring new building developments have social spaces where people can meet each other regularly.

If, for example, a person moves city once every five years then it is most unlikely that they will form lasting relationships where they live.

Simpler sentences for your point of view/thesis statement – think clarity

One place where you should definitely consider writing a shorter/simpler sentence is in your introduction when you state your position in what some people call the thesis statement. Here it’s important that you make your point of view clear and the natural way to do that is in a shorter simpler sentence.

See an example that works

This comes from an essay submitted as a comment. It’s a great example and a good model for you to follow. I have highlighted the simple sentence in blue – it works perfectly to get the main ideas of the essay across.

It is saddening that most people living in the cities have little or no knowledge about their neighbours and this is also affecting their sense of community. The two principal causes of this in my view are economic pressures and poor community planning. In this essay, I discuss these problems and how they might be solved in order to improve community bond.

Don’t only use complex structures – sometimes it helps to make your general points clear by using shorter and simpler sentences

Simpler sentences for topic sentences- think clarity again

Another place where I recommend you use simpler sentence structures is right at the start of your paragraphs in your topic sentences. Here you should focus on stating the main the idea as clearly as possible. Your goal here is just to show the examiner

how the paragraph fits into the essay structure

how it relates to the question

what information is likely to follow

Examples of simple topic sentences

You don’t need great complex sentences for this. These examples come from the same essay. You should see that they are simple in form and also very clear.

The burden placed on most people by the recent global economic recession is taking a toll on their way of life especially as regards community human relations

Equally significant is the problem created by the way most cities are planned.

Use more complex sentences for developing ideas – move from general to particular

You do of course want to use some more complex structures too. The place you are most likely to do this is when you are developing ideas in your main body paragraphs. It can help to follow the coherence guideline that you move from the general to the particular – this is part of organising ideas in paragraphs.

Your explanations are more likely to be complex than your ideas, so that is where you should use more complex grammar

Focus on purpose and meaning not grammar

If you want to use more complex structures I don’t really suggest that you learn certain structures that you’re going to use in essays. Much better is to focus on the purpose of your sentences. If you do that then you should fairly naturally use more complex structures. Here are some ways you can do this to get more complex structures as you explain ideas

Don’t use complex structures just because they’re complex
Think about what you want to say and how you want to develop ideas to use more complex grammar

Examples of more complex structures and their meaning

These are some examples of more complex structures you can use in your writing as you are developing ideas. Note in particular the meaning/use of each structure.

Define what you mean ⇒ relative clauses

As you develop your ideas you may well define precisely what you mean. You are not now talking generally but much more precisely. Look at this example:

It is possible for people who live in these new high rise buildings never to see each other, still less get to know each other well enough to form a bond. 

Here I am defining the people who are affected. This helps me to use a relative clause – a common and very useful piece of complex grammar.

Think about possibilities ⇒ if clauses

Another way you can develop ideas is to think about what might happen. This is especially useful for giving examples. See here

If, for example, a person moves city once every five years then it is most unlikely that they will form lasting relationships where they live.

Here I am giving an example of what might happen.

Think about reasons ⇒ because clauses

You need to think about reasons of course and one of the easiest ways to build a more complex sentence is to use because. Here’s an example:

One reason why people no longer know their neighbours is because they spend so much more time at work and commuting to work.

Add detail to what you say ⇒ not only ..but also

Another way you develop your main idea is to add detail what you say. This can help you use the compound structure not only .. but also. It’s a useful variation of and. Here’s how this can work:

Not only could local authorities build fewer high rise buildings, but they could also create more green spaces where people could meet.

Think about consequences ⇒ so that/with the result that

If you are making a suggestion or if you are talking about a proposed solution then you may well want to think about the results of that suggestion/solution. This can help you use so that.

One possible solution would be to build more community centres so that people would have somewhere where they could meet their neighbours and organise local events.

Think about purpose ⇒ to/in order to

This is again something you might consider when you are writing about solutions. It is very similar to using because for reasons.

The best way to solve this problem would be for the government to raise taxation on the large supermarkets and to reduce it for local businesses in order to bring back local markets and shops.

Qualify what you say ⇒ while/although

As you develop a general idea you may want to say that it is qualified in some sense and add detail. This can help you to use while or although – two essential linking words for more complex sentences.

Although there are some people who do still shop in local markets, most people in cities nowadays prefer to do the weekly shopping in large out of town supermarkets.

More resources and lessons to help you these skills

You’ll find separate lessons on using more complex grammar on  my

IELTS grammar page

You’ll find more information about writing clear topic sentences here:

Introduction to topic sentences

Then there is more detail about coherence and cohesion here

IELTS writing skills

Find out more about simple and complex sentences

This lesson is only a very quick guide. If you need more detail I suggest

Grammar in EAP – complex clauses – UEfAP


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2 Responses to Simple and complex sentences in IELTS paragraphs

  1. SuperMark October 11, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    This is excellent. Really.

  2. Abdulmajeed April 20, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    That is right.

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