Jul 182012

What’s the difference between a clause and a sentence?

ANSWER: You should recognise the difference between a phrase, a clause and a sentence.

A phrase is any small sequence of words within a sentence or a clause.

A clause is a group of related words that contains both a subject and verb.

There are two types of clauses:

  1. an independent clause: one which expresses a complete thought.
    It can function as a complete sentence;
  2. a dependent (also known as a subordinate) clause: one which expresses part of a thought. It requires a main clause to function within a sentence.

You might like to think of an independent clause as an adult, and a dependent clause as a child requiring an adult.

A sentence is either an independent clause, or a number of clauses joined together to convey a complete, and often more complex, thought.

Examples: a phrase: “two or three people”
an independent clause: “People like going to the movies.” (it’s also a simple sentence)
a dependent clause: “who like going to the movies”
a sentence: “People who like going to the movies are more sociable.”

There are many kinds of dependent clauses (relative clauses, noun clauses, adverbial clause etc.).

 Posted by at 10:56 am
Jul 182012

When do we use a semi-colon?

ANSWER: A semi-colon (;) is usually used for three main reasons:

  1. separating lists within sentences;
  2. completing items in a bullet list (like this);
  3. joining (usually) short, complete sentences into one sentences.


1. “There are many ways to keep fit and healthy: running around the block once a day; eating a balance diet; going to the gym; and visiting the doctor regularly.

(Also notice the use of the colon (:) above which is like a little arrow pointing to the right!)

2. (see above)

3. “IELTS writing task answers require correct punctuation for high scores; it’s not hard to learn.”

Notice that there is a noticeable “meaning” connection between the two joined complete sentences. Of course, they could also be written as two separate sentences.

 Posted by at 10:54 am
Jul 182012

When do I place a comma before “so”?

ANSWER: When “so” begins a clause:

.e.g. “I studied hard, so I am sure to pass the test.”

The same punctuation rule is used with: FOR – AND – NOR – BUT – OR – YET

…or FANBOYS to help you remember.

e.g. “It is important, but not everyone agrees with the policy.”

      “There is a new rule in the workplace, yet no-one knows about it.”

If the sentence is quite short, this punctuation is often skipped.

 Posted by at 10:53 am
Jul 182012

My teacher said this is wrong: “Share the work between all of you.” Why?

ANSWER: The adverb “between” is used for two (persons) only. With three or more, use “among” or “amongst”.

 Posted by at 10:51 am
Jul 182012

In IELTS writing tasks should I write “can’t”, “can not” or “cannot”?

ANSWER: Use “cannot”.

Sometimes “can not” causes a noticeable stress problem in English. If we write “I can not believe it”, we are adding the possibility of an unintended extra emphasis on “not”. It could be that this stress is too much for the meaning you wish. It is almost like stamping your feet on the word “not”!

In preference, “cannot” will always work well in English, with no undue or unintended stress – unless, of course, you wanted to stamp your feet! But in IELTS writing, candidates all too often write that they strongly believe in something when it is clear the arguments they have made are not very strong at all. This artificial emphatic belief can make the candidate appear too dramatic. Formal essays are best written objectively and dispassionately.  

Contractions such as “don’t” and “can’t” should never be used in an IELTS essay (or any other formal essay?). But the exception is sometimes when you are writing a letter in Task 1 for the General Training Module. Contractions can be OK, if, for example, the letter is written to a friend and is therefore less formal. If you are writing a letter to a business etc., we suggest you play it safe and use “cannot” or do not”.

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Jul 182012

What is the difference between “in contrast” and “by contrast”?

ANSWER: Both can be used interchangeably as long as you do not follow ‘by contrast” with a preposition.

“In contrast, …” or “By contrast, …” are interchangeable as complete phrases, but only “in contrast” is commonly followed by “to” or “with”:

Humans have the power of speech; in/by contrast, an animal can only utter sounds.

Humans have the power of speech in contrast to animals which can only utter sounds.

 Posted by at 10:33 am