In the IELTS Writing and Speaking tests the rules for grammar are almost identical. The IELTS Public Band Descriptors say this in relation to Grammar:

BAND 4: uses only a very limited range of structures with only rare use of subordinate clauses
BAND 5: attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
BAND 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
BAND 7: uses a variety of complex structures

Subordinate structures are just one kind of complex structure but you can see how important they are in the IELTS exam by the statement that appears at Band 4 level in the Public Band Descriptors:

BAND 4:  “only RARE USE of subordinate clauses”.

The implication here is that if you want to get higher than Band 4, your use of subordinate clauses must be more than rare.

So what are subordinate clauses? Today we will look at just one kind and in the next several posts we will deal with a number of additional kinds.

Do you need to know more than one kind of subordinate structure?

Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say:

 BAND 7: “uses a VARIETY of complex structures”.

It is clear therefore that if you want a higher band score you MUST know how to use a RANGE of subordinate structures.

Relative Clauses
I will not go over the grammar of these here but just show some examples of how they could be used in an IELTS exam.

Remember that relative clauses are ones that begin with: who, that, which, where, when, why.

How do you get to work/school?

“I use the bus which passes right near my home so it is very convenient”.

“My dad drives me to school, which takes about 30 minutes”.

Do you like travelling?

“I like travelling to places which are not crowded”.

“I like to see people who have different cultures and speak different languages”.


“This graph shows the method which is used to make pencils”.

“This flow chart shows the steps which must be followed to get a passport”.

“This graph illustrates the popularity of various foods which were consumed by people who lived in the UK in 2002″.

(There are 2 relative clauses here.)

“In detail, the consumption of fish, which began at 80 grams per week in 1990, grew steadily over the period to reach its highest value at the end of the period in 2010, when it hit 180 grams per week”.

(There are 2 relative clauses here.)

In Task 2 writing the opportunities to use subordinate structures are really unlimited:

“To begin with, computers, which have become much more affordable over recent years, give people the opportunity to communicate very easily and cheaply”.

I have deliberately used “which” in most of these examples (however, note the clauses beginning with “who” and “when”).

Check a grammar book for these two types of relative clauses and how they are used:

“I like food which is really spicy”.

(Defining clause because it tells you which kind of food I like – there are no commas in this clause).

”Margarine, which was introduced in 1970, became the most popular spread by the end of the period”.

(Non-defining clause because it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and it is marked by a comma in front and at the end of the clause.)

Practice using all the different types of relative clause markers (who, that, which, where, when, …etc.) so that you can produce a variety of relative clause structures in the test.

We will look at another example of subordination next time.