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.


We have talked a lot about the big picture in Task 1 IETLS Writing and we will continue to look at some other examples but today I want to look at the ESSAY STRUCTURE as a reminder to those who may have forgotten.

Although there are three main types of question in Task 1 Writing, the structure of the response is the same in each case:
1. Introduction
2. Overview
3. Details

You must write a sentence that simply says what the data is about. In doing this you must not use long phrases from the question. Look at the following examples:

“The graph illustrates information which compares the methods of travel in a Chinese city between 2000 and 2010.”

“The graph compares the proportion of expenditure on a number of household items over the period which occurred between 1995 and 2015.”

You will notice that both these sentences contain relative clause structures. This is not an accident.

All Task 1 questions must have an overview statement that sets out the key features, the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the information – THE BIG PICTURE.

Here is what the PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS say about this issue:

BAND 6 (Task Achievement): “presents an overview with information appropriately selected”
BAND 5 (Task Achievement): “no clear overview”

Can you see the penalty if you don’t have an overview statement of the big picture in your essay?

We have looked at many ways to do this over the past month for the mathematics questions and also briefly looked at process and maps, which we will do more on in the future. While in graph type Task 1 questions you would look for trends in the data or magnitude differences (or both), in a process you look for the main stages in the process and in a map for the most significant types of changes that have occurred. For example:


“Overall, consumption of fruit and ice-cream increased significantly over the period shown while the intake of sugar underwent a substantial decline. In addition, the data also shows that the amount of pasta consumed remained relatively steady.”

NOTE: All the highlighted words here are very important – do you know why? (We will come back to this tomorrow).


“In brief, pencils are made from graphite and wood in a three step process which produces the leads and the wooden pencil cases first before they are glued together into complete pencils.”

“In brief, the manufacture of cement is a three step process while the production of concrete involves a single step.”

Again, notice that these sentences are NOT SIMPLE SENTENCES but involve various subordinate structures. (Relative clauses, subordinate clauses, participle phrases – conditional sentences are also subordinate structures although there are none here.)


“In brief, significant tourist developments occurred at Laguna beach over the period from 1950 to 1990.”

“In brief, the school underwent an expansion in the teaching and outdoor sporting facilities over the period which occurred between 2000 and 2005.”

In the details section you must describe the big picture in detail, in the same order that it has been presented in the overview statement, making sure not to leave out any important information such as important data or parts of the diagram in a process or map question. Leaving out key, big picture, information could lead to the award of Band 4, according to the Public Band Descriptors.

To avoid this happening you must go through the data or diagram very logically making sure you have covered all the most important aspects of the data.

In mathematics questions we generally do not put data in the overview because we want it to be a very simple overall picture of what is shown in the data.

BUT …. In the details section, DATA MUST BE GIVEN. Here is what the PUBLIC BAND DESCRIPTORS say about this issue:

BAND 5 (Task Achievement): “there may be no data to support the description”


“In detail, sales of cars, which stood at 100 units per month in 2000, soared by the end of the decade in 2010, when they hit their highest point at 800 units per month. …..”


“In detail, clay, water and ground graphite, which are placed in a mixing container, produce graphite dough, when the mixture is stirred for 20 minutes. …..”


“In detail, the small huts on the southern end of the beach were transformed into luxury villas sometime between 1950 and 1970 while the sand dunes to the east of the huts were developed into landscaped gardens. …..”

Good use of grammar is essential, which means a mixture of various forms of subordinate and complex structures. In the case of process questions, it also means using present passive and for map questions it could involve past passive. The exact grammar needed really depends on the question. For example, if one map was now and one map was in the future, the candidate would need to use future structures to describe the expected changes.

Anyone located in Bangkok, Thailand who requires help with IELTS preparation, call Jum on the hotline at 09 3962 2496, send her a message on Line using her Line ID: jummanie or contact her via email:


IELTS English is based in Bangkok, Thailand, and we hear some very troubling information from some of our students related to how they have been told to look for key features. Students tell us that some teachers have told them all you have to do with key features is to look for the highest and lowest item.

As we have seen, this may be correct, SOMETIMES. Sometimes the only thing that can be identified is the difference in magnitude between certain quantities. BUT …. what about this example?

This graph shows the export earnings of one country from its three main exports in billions of US dollars.

Some candidates might be tempted to say that the most important information in this data is the fact that coal exports were much higher than food exports throughout the entire period and that food exports had the lowest value. This is true … BUT … is this really the most important thing the data is telling you.

Imagine you are the government of this very unfortunate country! What would worry about this information?

The MOST IMPORTANT aspect of this data IS NOT THE MAGNITUDES, although they should be mentioned in any answer, a government would be MOST WORRIED about the fact that export earnings from coal AND manufactured goods have plunged and NOTHING has made up for this and brought more income into the country because food exports have remained fairly flat over the time shown. It is the TRENDS NOT THE MAGNITUDES that are the most stunning aspect of this data.

If a candidate ignored this very important information about the trends and ONLY talked about the magnitudes of the items shown, they should not expect to get a high mark because they have actually missed a far more important aspect of what this data shows. This data actually shows a very seriously failing economy and while this interpretation is NOT relevant in an IELTS essay, a candidate MUST talk about the trends that are so clearly shown here and not just the magnitudes.

One way to write the big picture for this graph would be:

“Overall, although coal exports earned the most throughout the entire period, the export income from coal and manufactured goods declined spectacularly over the period shown. In addition, food export earnings, which were the lowest of the export items shown, remained relatively stable.” ”

It is surprisingly easy to miss something that is very important like this and we will look at another example tomorrow. In short, always look if there are significant trends AND significant magnitude differences shown in the data. If BOTH are present, talk about this in your essay.

Anyone located in Bangkok, Thailand who requires help with IELTS preparation, call Jum on the hotline at 09 3962 2496, send her a message on Line using her Line ID: jummanie or contact her via email: