Secrets to IELTS writing success – Synonyms

A lot of people get stuck writing, not because they can’t express themselves properly but because they run of interesting ways to express their ideas.  Many writers, including native English speakers, become lazy and reuse the same expressions over and over again.  That can make your writing sound boring.  Very boring!

An excellent way to build your English vocabulary is to learn synonyms – words or phrases that have similar meanings.  If you learn synonyms your work will sound more interesting, engaging and expressive (see how those three words also make my writing sound more professional).

Writing about the future

Here is an example from a sample IELTS essay I found online.  The question is this:

Some people prefer to spend their lives doing the same things and avoiding change. Others, however, think that change is always a good thing. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

This essay requires you to write about the future, so words that express change (the rate of change, developments, inventions, innovations, etc.) will be useful.  Here’s how a first draft looks:

Over the past fifty years human life has changed a lot. Technology has changed the way we view the everyday world. This means that change is not always personal, but a certain fact of life, and we need to always change ourselves to keep up with it.

It’s not bad, but count how many times the word ‘change’ was used.  It’s a bit too repetitive.  Now compare it with this paragraph:

Over the last half century the pace of change in the life of human beings has increased beyond our wildest expectations. This has been driven by technological and scientific breakthroughs that are changing the way we view the world on an almost daily basis. This means that change is not always a personal option, but an inescapable fact of life, and we need to constantly adapt to keep pace with it.

Rather than repeat the word change, it sounds much better to use different expressions – ‘has changed a lot’ has been replaced by ‘the pace of change … has increased’.  Other more ordinary expressions, such as ‘certain’ (‘inescapable’) and ‘change to keep up’ (‘adapt’) can also be replaced.

First essay Second essay
over the past fifty years over the last half century
has changed a lot the pace of change … has increased beyond our wildest expectations
technology has changed the way we view the world this has been driven by technological and scientific breakthroughs that are changing the way we view the world
certain inescapable
we always need to change to keep up we need to constantly adapt to keep pace with it

Expressions about the future


Here’s a whole list of other words that might relate to this topic:

Words that express change:

  • Transition from / towards
  • Innovation / innovative
  • Evolve / evolved
  • Revolution / revolve
  • Advanced
  • Developed

Words that express a movement towards the future:

  • Eventual
  • Approaching
  • Unfolding
  • Prospective
  • Forthcoming
  • Subsequent
  • Impending

Study tips

When using synonyms – whether they are individual words or phrases – try to group them together.  Then when you try to remember them, you’re not only remembering one word or phrase but you’re remembering a whole group of them at the same time.

This will help you become a better writer, and a much more fluent English speaker!

IELTS writing – ‘to’ and ‘-ing’s

‘To’ and ‘—ing’ verbs

English verbs can be complicated, but they needn’t be.  It just takes practice, and that’s where writing comes in.  The more you practice writing verbs, keeping lists and experimenting with new sentences, the easier you will find them when using English for your essays or IELTS exams.

ing grammar english

Take for instance when we use two verbs together.  It seems difficult, but through practice you’ll get to know how to use the different forms.  In the first form the second verb is called ‘the infinitive’, and in this case we use the word ‘to’ to connect the two verbs together.  Here’s a few examples:

I can’t wait to see you again.

He intends to finish his assignment next week.

In other examples the second verb contains the ‘–ing’ form.  Here are some examples of those:

They recommended spending more money.

Experts suggest finding new sources of funding.

If you read these you’ll notice that some of these verbs can be made into both forms – the ‘to’ and ‘—ing’.  In this example the meaning doesn’t change too much:

He intended to finish his assignment next week.

He intends finishing his assignment next week.

In other examples the meaning might be quite different.  Consider these two sentences:

They stopped waiting (‘they stopped waiting [and left or did something else]’).

They stopped to wait (‘they stopped in order to wait’).

Here both sentences are grammatically correct, but the meanings are very different.  In this example it’s important to get the right verb form; in other examples it doesn’t matter too much.

How to remember which to use?

Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to remember.  You just have to practice using them both, and with practice you’ll get better at remembering the best form for each sentence.

Some examples of the ‘to’ verbs:

  • Intend
  • Attempt
  • Plan
  • Trial
  • Claim
  • Seem
  • Offer

Here are a few of the ‘–ing’ verbs:

  • Enjoy
  • Carry on
  • Remember
  • Think about
  • Consider
  • Involve
  • Appreciate

Exercise to practice

To help hone your skills, try to pick the incorrect verb in each of the sentences.  When you’ve finished, see if you can rewrite the sentence with the incorrect verb (that might involve changing the ‘—ing’ to the ‘to’ form, or vice versa).

The new movie is …. to screen at the cinema this week.

(scheduled, delayed, advertised)

We …. to edit the chapter by ourselves.

(think about, want, plan)

My boss … increasing my days off at work

(undertook, suggested, recommended)

We already …. to meet each other after work.

(hope, involve, arranged)

The government  … to pay the worker’s salaries.

(forgot, intended, suspend)

Practice, practice, practice…

If you’re still worried about your use of English verbs after this, don’t work.  Practice will certainly help.

It might be good to know that even native English speakers don’t always get it right.  But if you want to improve your English to a level 9 in the speaking test, it sure helps paying attention to these different verb forms.

learn english through tv

When listening to movies, news reports or interviews with native English speakers, try to pay attention to these two different verb forms.  This will help you become a natural in no time!