😦 This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.
This is possible in some languages but not in English. In English if something happens the same way, all the time, predictably, without variation, then there isn’t really any question of probability (‘could’). For regular, predictable phenomena use good old present simple tense without modals:
- This is achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.
Only use modals for unpredictable or uncertain situations, and then think about the degree of predictability or certainty:
- This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level, but there are other, better methods. (Gravity perhaps not the best method)
- In most situations this can be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level. (Gravity usually the best method)
Notice that could implies a more negative evaluation than can. Indonesians should think carefully about this distinction as they tend to over-use could, having been taught in school that could is more formal than can. Well, yes it is, but only in offers and requests:
- Can you pass the salt? (informal)
- Could you pass the salt, please? (formal)
- Excuse me. Would you mind passing the salt? (very formal)
😦 Students experience stress when they enter university because college life is tough and tiring.
In my opinion this writer needs to take a chill pill. The claim he or she is making about university seems highly subjective and emotional.
The first problem is that there are plenty of students – myself included – who do not experience stress when they enter university. Secondly, college life is not always tough and tiring. College life includes fun social activities with friends, holidays, and leisure activities on and off campus. Both of these ideas can be incorporated into the original statement after taking two chill pills:
Students often experience stress when they enter university because college life can be tough and tiring.
- (Pill 1) The adverb often tells us two things:
- the frequency of stress (not always!)
- the number of students who experience stress (not all!)
- (Pill 2) The modal can tells us about the possibility that college life is not always tough and tiring (It’s possible, but maybe not.)
Why is it a good idea to weaken claims like this?
- it makes claims easier to defend
- it makes your writing appear less subjective and more objective
- it shows that you are confidently uncertain.
- it sends a message to your reader that you might be wrong, and you welcome feedback and corrections
When you’re reading journal articles, look for other strategies writers use to weaken (or strengthen) claims.
😦 Taking a break between school and university is worthy of their time.
OK so here it would be better to write:
🙂 Taking a break between school and university is worth doing.
And so why, in this situation, is it better to write worth rather than worthy (of)?
Use worth when you want to evaluate a thing, person, or action:
- Exercise is worth doing. (positive evaluation of ‘exercise’)
- Smoking isn’t worth it! (negative evaluation of ‘smoking’)
- That guy’s worth a million dollars. (positive financial evaluation)
This is particularly useful when you want to evaluate claims in IELTS Task 2 writing.
Use worthy (of) when you want to say that a thing, person or action deserves attention, effort, or respect. The key word here is deserve:
- He’s not worthy. (= He doesn’t deserve our respect.)
- Two incidents are worthy of mention here. (= Two incidents deserve our attention.)
- The poem is worthy of deep reflection. (= The poem deserves our effort.)
Note that worthy (of) is now considered quite old fashioned. These days it is used more often to refer to people rather than things. The last two examples would now more likely be written:
- Two incidents are worth mentioning here.
- The poem is worth reflecting upon.
Unfortunately there are some grammar and collocation issues relating to the word worth. Lucky for you, these are described with examples in a previous post.
These are often used inaccurately as they don’t translate well from other languages.
Let’s use besides to modify the following argument:
I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. First of all I don’t like the film. Secondly, there is an unusual amount of traffic in town. Finally, we don’t have any money.
Here there are three supports for not wanting to see the film:
- I don’t like the film.
- The traffic in town is heavy.
- We don’t have any money.
The same argument could be expressed using besides, as follows:
I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. Besides not liking the film and the unusual amount of traffic in town, we don’t have any money.
The second sentence (the supports) can be represented:
Besides + claim(s) [expressed as noun phrases] + , + final claim [expressed as a sentence].
In this case ‘besides’ simply means ‘as well as’.
Here the meaning is a little different:
I don’t think we should go to the cinema tonight. First of all I don’t like the film. Secondly, there is an unusual amount of traffic in town. And besides, we don’t have any money.
The claim introduced by and besides is much stronger than the preceding claims. In fact, it is so strong that it is really not necessary to consider the previous claims. If we have no money, then there’s no way we can go to the cinema!
Again, it’s useful to diagram the structure:
Weak claim(s) + And besides + very strong [and final!] claim
Here the meaning is more than just ‘as well as’. ‘And besides’ introduces a very powerful claim that makes all other preceding claims redundant.
😦 Yes, I like my job because it matches my education.
In IELTS you will often be required to express opinions about topics that you may not have thought about very deeply or discussed in daily conversation with friends. Not only do you have to give opinions, you also have to give reasoned support for these opinions.
The opening statement can be expressed:
Claim: I like my job.
Support: My job matches my education.
Fine. But let’s say you studied chemistry at university and you now work as a chemist. Then you could say:
I like working as a chemist because I studied chemistry at university.
I studied chemistry at university because I wanted to work as a chemist.
But then it is possible to say:
I enjoy working as a chemist because I studied chemistry at university because I wanted to be a chemist because I was studying chemistry because I wanted to be a chemist.
This is known as a circular argument. You say you like your job, and since you chose to study chemistry, we assume that you like that, too. So we still don’t know why you like chemistry (your job)! You might as well say “I like it because I like it!”
There are much better reasons why a person might like their job:
- the job pays a good salary
- the job involves travelling (which you enjoy)
- the job involves meeting interesting people
- the job presents opportunities for career development
- the workplace is situated conveniently close to your home
- (other reasons here)
So, when you’re preparing for IELTS, think – more deeply than usual – about the things you like (or don’t like). And then think about why you like (or don’t like) them.
Let’s practice right now. Here is a list of things people either like or don’t like. Choose one item and add a comment below, saying why you either like or don’t like the item. Try to give two reasons, and avoid those circular arguments!
- listening to music
- preparing for IELTS
Students, especially Indonesian students, often tell me that they would much rather watch a film than read a book. Reading is boring, they say.
I would like to invite you to think again about reading.
My teaching colleagues and I would all agree that reading novels is fun, and we all recommend this kind of ‘extensive’ reading to our students. Most of us would also agree that when a film is made based on a book, the book is always much more satisfying than the film of the book.
Let’s try an experiment. Let’s see which you prefer – the book or the film? First you’re going to read and listen to a short text. Then you’re going to watch a movie clip based on the same text. Finally you’ll reflect on the experience and think again about which you prefer – reading or just ‘watching’.
1. Read the text shown in the clip below and use your imagination to picture what’s going on in the ‘story’. Think carefully about the imagery and about characters in the story. What do the people in the story look like? Where are they?
2. Now watch the ‘movie’. Compare what you see in the film to what you saw in your mind as you were reading. Did you ‘see’ the same things? How are the images in the video different from the images you saw in your mind when you were reading?
3. So what do you think? Do you still prefer watching somebody else’s thoughts. Who is the best ‘director’? You when you read? Or someone else when they read?
I’d be very interested to know your thoughts about reading vs. viewing. What are your preferences and why? Please comment below.
And why do you think I showed a picture of an iceberg as the featured image for this post?
A student recently asked what is the difference between the topic sentence of a body paragraph and the main claim of the paragraph.
Many students have read about ‘topic sentences’ and believe that it’s essential to make a separate sentence to introduce the topic before making any kind of argumentative claim:
- sentence 1: topic only (saving police time), no opinion
- sentence 2: topic (saving police time) plus opinion (valuable police time will be saved)
This is unnecessary repetition. The second sentence already contains the topic AND the main claim of the paragraph, and so it already behaves like a topic sentence:
In academic writing it is generally a good idea to get to the point as quickly and concisely as possible. This kind of writing is much easier to read and is more likely to result in a good score in IELTS Task 2 for task response and coherence and cohesion.