While you listen: Recognising synonyms and rephrasing

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Unit 5: While you listen:
Recognising synonyms and rephrasing

Synonyms and rephrasing

When you are listening for answers in the Listening test, you must be aware that the relevant information could be worded differently to the question. This could happen in two ways:

  • individual words can be different – synonyms are used
  • whole sentences can be different – language is rephrased.

Recognising information when the language is rephrased

You should now be aware that the wording of the questions is often different from the wording in the listening passage. This is known as rephrasing.

Let’s look at some common examples of rephrasing in Sentence Completion questions.

Example 1: Paola

In your Question Booklet you might read the following question:

1 Paola is currently studying to be … a clinical psychologist .

However, in the listening passage, you might hear Paola say this:

“This year, I’m studying to be a clinical psychologist.”

How has the language changed?

  • In the listening passage, the structure has changed from the third person (Paola) to the first person(I).
  • Synonyms have been used (e.g., currently for this year).
  • The wording of the question and the listening passage is different. In the question, currently comes after the verb “to be”, whereas in the listening passage this year comes at the beginning of the sentence.
Example 2: A news item

In your Question Booklet, you might read the following question:

2 Two youths were interviewed after … a stolen car … collided with a taxi.

However, the news reader might say:

“Police are interviewing two youths over a crash in which a stolen car carrying nine teenagers collided with a taxi.”

How has the language changed?

In the question, the information has been worded differently: the question uses the passive voice (were interviewed ) while the listening passage uses the active voice (are interviewing).

Changing from active to passive voice is one of the most common ways of rephrasing a sentence. Be prepared to hear this in the IELTS Listening test. We will look more closely at this now.

Active and Passive Voice

We use the active voice when the subject of the sentence is doing the action.

The student wrote an essay
subject (noun) verb object (noun)

In the above sentence, the student (the subject of the sentence) is doing the action to the object, that is, writing an essay.

The passive voice is used when the subject is receiving the action, not doing the action.

The verb structure changes from the past tense active form, wrote, to the past tense passive form, was written.

An essay was written by the student
subject (noun) to be + past participle
verb (passive structure)
agent (noun group)

In the sentence above, an essay is the subject and the person doing the action of writing, the student, is now the object of the sentence. The meaning of the active and passive sentences is the same, but the subject is different.

Let’s look at another example of the language changing from active to passive voice in Sentence Completion questions.

Example 3 : Sea vegetables

In your Question Booklet, you might see the following question:

3 In many cultures and … for many centuries people have cultivated sea vegetables.

However, in the listening passage, you might hear a university lecturer saying:

university lecturer “Sea vegetables have been cultivated and used for many centuries by many people in many cultures.”

How has the language changed?

  • A more complex passive structure in the present perfect tense has been used in the listening passage. In the question, the verb have cultivated occurs but in the listening passage the passive form have been cultivated is used.
  • We can also see that the object of the question, sea vegetables, has become the subject of the sentence in the listening passage.

Rephrasing in the Listening test is not always as simple as changing from the active to passive voice. Rephrasing often involves more complex grammatical changes.

However, it’s important to remember, that even with more complex rephrasing in a listening passage, the meaning will always be the same as the test question.

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