Focus on grammatical range and accuracy

Grammatical range and accuracy

In the Speaking test, the examiner will not be testing what you know about grammar, but how well you can use grammar. This means that although a good knowledge of grammar is useful, it is more important that you can produce the correct grammar when you speak.

You will remember we looked at grammatical range and accuracy in Step 1.

Grammatical range is determined by:

  • the length and complexity of your sentences
  • how appropriately you use complex sentences
  • the variety of sentence structures you use.

Grammatical accuracy is determined by:

  • how many grammatical errors you make
  • how your errors interfere with communicating your ideas.

It is not possible to predict all the structures that may be necessary for the IELTS Speaking test. The activities in this lesson will help you to become aware of any weak areas that you may have in grammar and provide a chance for you to practise them.

Simple, compound and complex sentences

Sentence structure is the way words are ordered in a sentence. There are three basic types of sentence structures:

  • simple
  • compound
  • complex

For IELTS you do not need to remember what these sentences are called, but you should be able to use a variety of them to show your grammatical range.

Simple sentences

Sentences in English generally follow the order of subject (S) – verb (V) – object (O). Look at the sentence below:

I eat chocolate

This is a simple sentence. It only has one verb.

Here are some other examples.

  1. The dog drinks
  2. The old dog drinkswater every morning.
  3. The old brown dog drinksdirty water every morning.
  4. The old brown dog with a black spot on his eye drinksdirty water every morning.
  5. The old brown dog with a black spot on his eye drinksdirty water every morning at home.
  6. The small old brown dog with a black spot on his eye drinksdirty yellow water every morning at 9 o’clock in front of his home.

These are all simple sentences because they only have one verb. Although sentence six offers a lot more detail to describe the dog and the water, it still has only one verb, making it a simple sentence.

Compound sentences

compound sentence is made of two simple sentences joined together by a conjunction (such as and or but).

A compound sentence has more than one verb.

Look at the two simple sentences below, on the left. These two simple sentences can be joined together to form one compound sentence using a conjunction (such as andbutorsowhile).

Simple sentences

The dog drank the water.

The cat drank the milk.

Compound sentences

The dog drank the water and the cat drank the milk.

The dog drank the water but the cat drank the milk.

The dog drank the water so the cat drank the milk.

The dog drank the water while the cat drank the milk.

The two parts of these sentences, ‘The dog drank the water’ and ‘The cat drank the milk’, are called clauses.

Notice how the meaning of the compound sentence changes depending on the conjunction used to join the clauses together.

Complex sentences

A complex sentence is made of one simple sentence and part of another simple sentence joined together by a conjunction.

Look at the complex sentence below.

The dog is drinking water while scratching his back.

Why is this a complex sentence? If we take the last part of this sentence away (while scratching his back), we are left with ‘The dog is drinking water’.

The dog is drinking water while scratching his back.

This can be a complete sentence by itself. It has a subject, verb and object.
We call this the main clause.

The second part of this sentence ‘scratching his back’ has a verb and an object, but it does not have a subject, so it is not a complete sentence by itself.

The dog is drinking water while scratching his back.

We call this the subordinate clause.

A subordinate clause always needs a main clause to make a complete sentence. Therefore, a complex sentence is a sentence containing a main clause and at least one subordinate clause.

Let’s look at some more examples. The sentences below are all complex sentences.

James is the boy who hit the ball through the window.
He said that he likes soccer.
When I turned twelve, my parents moved to a new house.
The best thing about my home town is that it has a beautiful river flowing through it.

Comparative and superlative review

Some of the questions in the IELTS Speaking test will ask you to compare different things. To compare things in English we often use comparatives and superlatives. Look at the table below.

Adjective Comparative Superative
big bigger the biggest
late later the latest
handsome more handsome / less handsome the most handsome / the leasthandsome
expensive more expensive / less expensive the most expensive / the leastexpensive

Comparatives are used to compare two or more things. Change adjectives of one syllable into the comparative form by adding ‘er’ and adjectives with more than one syllable by using ‘more’.

  • Elephants are bigger than cats.
  • I came to school later than you.
  • Michael is more handsome than Tim.
  • A car is more expensive than a pen.

Superlatives are used to compare one thing to other things. Change adjectives of one syllable into the superlative by adding ‘est’ and adjectives with more than one syllable by using ‘the most’. Notice how the superlative uses the word ‘the’.

Sentence Explanation
This is the biggest house in the street. There are many houses in the street. This house is biggerthan any of the other houses.
Last night was the latest I have ever gone to sleep. I have gone to sleep many times. The time I went to sleep last night was later than any other time.
Bob is the most handsomeman I have ever met. There are many handsome men in the world. I have never met a man more handsome than Bob.
My new computer is the most expensive one in the shop. There are many computers in the shop. The computer I bought is more expensivethan any other computer in the shop.

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