Tagged: vocabulary

You could use ‘can’, or not!

ūüė¶ 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)

flag-of-indonesia 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)
  • etc.






Youths or young people?

ūüė¶ These days¬†youths are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

This is grammatically correct but inappropriate.

The countable noun youth¬†tends to have negative connotations, especially when it’s plural or part of the lexical phrase the youth of today:

  • Youths at football matches often cause trouble.
  • The youth of today have no respect for others.

Youths are troublemakers, at that awkward age between childhood and adulthood when they rebel against authority and indulge in sex, drugs and rock and roll, often with negative consequences. Youths hang around town in gangs and old ladies are afraid of them.


‘Youths’ in a residential area.

Most of the time in IELTS Task 2 essays you want to maintain a more positive – or at least neutral – attitude to young people, and so it’s probably best to refer to them as exactly that –¬†young people!

These days young people are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

Another option for IELTS writing would be:

These days the younger generation are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.


Clean living young people facing the future as responsible members of society!

In IELTS Task 2 you also often want to make a prediction about how a situation may affect young people in the future. In this case you are talking about future generations:

  • Global warming is a problem that governments need to solve for the sake of future generations.
  • Future generations will prosper as long as they follow a healthy lifestyle.

Notice that we assume there will be more than one future generation and if we’re generalising then there is no article (the).





Contribution, cause, effect

ūüė¶ The experience I got from this job has strong contributions in changing my character from employee to leader.

This is a word that has been borrowed from English and is now used in Indonesian as the noun¬†kontribusi. However, it’s difficult to find a verb that collocates with the noun contribution in English. Certainly you would not use ‘have’ + ‘contributions’. In English,¬†contribution¬†usually appears before the verb, as the subject of a sentence. In addition, contribution¬†(subject) often refers either to money or to the efforts of a person or people. In the example above, however,¬†experience and¬†changing are both abstract nouns where one is the cause and the other is the effect.

If you want to communicate cause effect¬†then you need the verb form contribute. There are still collocation issues, but¬†heck –¬†that gives you something to show off in your IELTS writing, right?

The experience I got from this job has contributed greatly to changing my character from employee to leader.


Remember that when both nouns are abstract, contribute to behaves as a cause effect signal. This is a relatively low-frequency signal and is therefore a good signal to use in IELTS writing as an alternative to the more common verb cause.

Contribute to is also weaker than cause and is therefore useful when you want to express less than 100% certainty:

  • Greenhouse gases cause global warming. (Strong – implies no other causes)
  • Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.¬†(Weaker – implies there may be other causes)

Using weak verbs is one of several strategies for weakening debatable claims. I deal with other strategies in other posts. You can find two more strategies here.


Comprise or consist?

ūüė¶ Overall, the tap comprise of many parts.

This is an easy one to get wrong. Your options here are:

  • Overall, the tap comprises many parts.
  • Overall, the tap is comprised of many parts.
  • Overall, the tap consists of many parts.

..but NOT comprise of!


A refreshing refreshment

ūüė¶ Students can take a break while they are studying in college for refreshing.

flag-of-indonesia¬†This word has been borrowed from English and used in Indonesian as a noun. However, in English ‘refreshing’ is not a noun, and the closest noun available is ‘refreshment’, but this is used almost exclusively for food and drink.

‘Refreshing’ is an adjective:

  • Students can take a refreshing break while they are studying at college.
  • Taking a break while studying at college can be refreshing.

Refreshed and refreshing

IELTS candidates are often asked to explain why they enjoy certain activities, for example going to the beach at the weekend. In this case both the adjectives ‘refreshing’ and ‘refreshed’ might be used:

  • Going to the beach at the weekend is refreshing.
  • When I go to the beach at the weekend I feel refreshed.

Refreshing and refreshed follow the same rule as bored and boring, where the __ing form is for the source, and the __ed form is used for the receiver:

  • I feel refreshed. (receiver: I)
  • Going to the beach is refreshing. (source:¬†Going to the beach)


Finally, you might use the verb ‘refresh’:

  • I go to the beach at the weekend to refresh myself.

Notice that in this case you must include an object: refresh¬†myself. Also notice that when you’re explaining why you do something, you use to + V1 (not for).

Further study

Check out these other examples of ‘refreshing’.



It is called as ‘bad grammar’

ūüė¶ People call this as the ‘big data era’.

flag-of-indonesia In Bahasa Indonesia disebut (called) collocates strongly with sebagai (as). Not so in English. Indeed, sebagai is often redundant in English, except when it collocates with certain verbs.

The correct options here are:

  1. People call this the ‘big data era’. (active¬†call without¬†as)
  2. This era is called the ‘big data era’. (passive¬†call without¬†as)
  3. This era is known as the ‘big data era’. (passive¬†know with¬†as)

Most native speakers would probably use number 1, except when the term being introduced is somehow scientific:

Liquids tend to travel quickly along very narrow spaces. This phenomenon is known as capillary attraction.

Be careful. If you want to use¬†known as then you need to begin with some of the defining characteristics of the ‘known’ phenomenon:

Recently data¬†has become so¬†complex that traditional¬†data¬†processing application software is inadequate to deal with it. This data is now known as ‘big data’.

flag-of-indonesia Indonesians.. Once again, be careful with sebagai! It collocates differently in English.


Ask the menu!

menu couple 450

Non-native speakers having dinner!

flag-of-indonesia¬†This is a common mistake made by Indonesians translating ‘tanya’ instead of ‘minta’.

The options in English are (take a deep breath!):

  1. I’ll ask the waiter. (ask someone)
  2. I’ll ask the waiter to bring us the menu. (ask someone to do something)
  3. I’ll ask the waiter about the menu. (ask someone about something/someone)
  4. I’ll ask the waiter for the menu. (ask someone for something)
  5. I’ll ask for the menu. (ask for something/someone)

Most native speakers would probably use Number 5.

Notice that ask something is not in this list. The picture below shows what might happen if you ask the menu!

menu talk 300

Most menus cannot answer questions!

flag-of-indonesia¬†Possibly there are different ways to translate the correct forms into Indonesian. I know that I’m never confident when using¬†tanya and¬†minta¬†in Indonesian. If you have any suggestions, please share in the comments box below!