IELTS Grammar: 7 Key English Grammar Rules You Should Know
Good grammar is essential for taking the IELTS exam.
Even though there is no part of the IELTS exam that directly tests and focuses only on grammar, proper English grammar is very important for getting a high IELTS score!
In this post, you’ll find some important grammar rules to learn to prepare for the IELTS exam, each followed by examples and a short exercise. Once you’ve done the exercises, you can check with the answer key at the end of the post.
- 7 English Grammar Rules You Need to Get a Higher IELTS Score
7 English Grammar Rules You Need to Get a Higher IELTS Score
Grammar is important as it helps you make progress in all four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Although you’ll mostly see your progress in speaking and writing as you actively use grammar structures, knowing grammar will also help you understand language, both in reading and in listening.
The best way to improve your grammar is to study each rule below one by one, read some examples, make your own examples and then practice each rule by doing exercises.
1. The Simple Aspect
We use the simple aspect to talk about general, permanent or repeated actions.
Here, the present simple is used to refer to a general, habitual action:
I often read business magazines online.
In the above example, it is implied that you read these magazines online all the time. This is something you do regularly.
We use the continuous aspect to focus on progressive actions that usually happen around the moment of speaking.
Here, the present continuous is used to refer to an action that is happening at the moment of speaking:
I am reading an interesting book.
The same rule applies to all the verb tenses, past, present and future. If you want to focus on the continuity of the action, use the continuous aspect. If you are more interested in the result of the action, then use the simple aspect.
Try this exercise with FluentU: Search for the word “read” and then the word “reading” and check the flashcards and video results for each. You’ll quickly see the difference between the two in the example sentences. You’ll also get a chance to flip through clips where the words are used for more context.
FluentU can help you with the other rules in this post, as well. It’s a program that uses authentic English videos like news segments, movie trailers and clips, music videos and more.
The program also has additional learning tools that can help you prepare for the IELTS, like pronunciation practice on the iOS and Android apps, the ability to check the meaning of any word from the video’s subtitles, flashcards that you can organize into your own themed lists, personalized quizzes and more.
With a program like FluentU, you’ll get a chance to see these rules in context and learn how to confidently use them yourself.
Why is this useful for IELTS?
In IELTS Speaking Part 1 you have to answer questions about yourself.
You will need to make sure you use the right verb tense and the right aspect—simple or continuous—depending on what you want to say. If you want to talk about general things that you do regularly, then you need the present simple. If, however, you want to refer to actions that are temporary and happen around the moment of speaking, then you need the present continuous.
You may also need this grammar rule in Writing Task 1 when describing trends shown in graphs or charts. You are probably going to use the past simple quite a lot because in this part you report on situations that happened in the past.
Between January and March, the profit rose by 10%.
They produced twice the amount of cars in June.
Hungary accounted for 10% of the students involved in the competition.
Let’s practice this rule by putting the verbs in the right tense and aspect:
1. I ___(exercise) every other day, but I ___(not like) going to sports competitions.
2. The graph ___(show) how the total number of students ___(change) in the past 5 years.
3. I ___(do) an internship this spring, so I ___(not want) to take another job just yet.
4. Alan ___(watch) a movie when I ___(arrive).
2. The Simple Past and Present Perfect Verb Tenses
When using the past tense, we see these past actions as having no connection with the present. They belong to the past, so we use the past tense to express them.
I ate my breakfast with Tony and then we saw a movie.
The action above happened in the past. There is no connection with the present, so we use the simple past.
If, however, the action happened in the past but it has some kind of impact on the present, or if it continues into the present, we need to use the present perfect.
I haven’t eaten breakfast yet, I’m starving.
The above is present perfect because it is a past action but it has an obvious impact on the present, the speaker is now hungry.
I have been waiting here since 10 a.m.
The above is present perfect because the action started in the past but is continuing into the present, when the speaker is still waiting.
Why is this useful for IELTS?
In the IELTS speaking test you may have to talk about different events from the past, either about yourself or about other matters. Decide if the actions are still relevant in the present, if they still have an impact or not.
You have more time to make this decision when you are writing than when speaking, but if you practice this rule you’ll be able to think faster.
Have a look at the following sentences and decide whether to use the past or the present perfect:
5. I ___(start) studying for the IELTS exam two months ago but I still ___(not decide) whether to move to Australia.
6. According to the bar chart, more women than men ___(take) the course last year.
7. Entertainment ___(change) a lot since people ___(start) using the Internet every day.
3. The Passive Voice
The passive voice can be used whenever you want to sound more formal and impersonal.
You form the passive voice by using the verb “to be” in the tense you want, plus the past participle (the third form of the verb; for example, for the verb “write” you would use “written”).
Almost 50% more courses were chosen in the second semester as compared to the first one. (the passive voice is used here, with the past tense of the verb “to be” and the past participle of the verb “choose”).
More research needs to be done before choosing a certain supplier. (“do” is used in the passive voice in the infinitive, with the verb “be” used in the infinitive and the past participle of the verb “do”).
Why is this useful for IELTS?
You can use the passive voice in both writing tasks in the IELTS exam, particularly in reports where a more formal tone is needed.
Now try using the verbs in parentheses in the right passive voice form. These are examples you could use in your own formal reports!
8. As can ___(see) from the figures, the number of first year students decreased dramatically in the last five years.
9. As ___(show) in the diagram, there was a marked increase in the number of students driving their own cars to school.
10. More language courses ___(choose) by students in the second semester.
4. Modal Verbs
You can use modal verbs when you want to express different nuances like degrees of certainty.
- Could , might and may are modal verbs and can be used to refer to possible but uncertain actions in the future, with might being slightly less certain than may.
We could be late if we stop for drinks now.
I may want to spend my holiday in Europe, but everything depends on my partner.
We might want to move to a different class if the problem persists.
- Could have , might have and may have are used to express possible actions in the present or past—you are suggesting that these actions are or were possible, or that they are or were completed.
They could have left hours ago.
It’s almost midnight in Spain, the plane might have landed by now.
I may have mentioned your name to my colleague.
- Can is used to make general possible statements about the present, while could is used as the past of can with this meaning.
My boss can be very demanding at times.
Students can be difficult to motivate in evening classes.
My boss could be very demanding when I first got hired.
Students could be difficult to motivate when I was an inexperienced teacher.
These conclusions can’t be right.
- Must is used when we are sure something is true and must have is used with the same meaning for the past.
There must be a better explanation for why they haven’t arrived yet.
They must have changed their marketing strategy to afford such good prices.
Why is this useful for IELTS?
In the IELTS exam, you may find modal verbs in reading and in listening and if you get their meaning right you stand a better chance of getting that part of the test right.
In speaking you may want to use them in Part 3 when extending the discussion from yourself to other aspects the examiner might ask you about. Modal verbs can be used to express probability when making generalizations and talking more abstractly.
Now try practicing them by filling in the gaps with the right modal verbs studied above:
11. This ___(not be) your phone, I know you had a different ringtone.
12. It ___(not be) Donna at the door, she called to say she is sick.
13. They ___(change) their plans, but they haven’t said anything to me.
5. The Definite Article
The definite article (the), as the name suggests, is used for talking about people or things that are known to the speaker, already mentioned earlier, described in some detail or unique.
Can you turn the TV on? (The speaker knows which TV they are talking about.)
We are not going by car. The car is not big enough for all of us. (The car has already been mentioned, so we know what car the speaker is referring to.)
The gift they brought was a bit inappropriate. (We know what gift the speaker is talking about.)
I can’t open the door, as I don’t have the key. (The key is unique.)
- The can also be used with superlatives, ordinal numbers, countries that have plurals in them or that include the words “republic” or “kingdom.”
This is the best movie I’ve seen in a while. (superlative)
This is the second time I’ve met him today. (ordinal number)
The Czech Republic is one of my favorite countries in Europe. (country that includes the word “republic”)
Why is this useful for IELTS?
In the IELTS Writing exam, leave a few minutes at the end to proofread for grammar mistakes. If you’re still having doubts about whether you are using the correctly, try practicing in writing first and then in speaking, as you have more thinking time to decide if you should use the or not. It’s easy to erase it in case you decide that the person or thing is in fact undefined, new or not specified.
To practice making this decision, use the or nothing in the following gaps:
14. I don’t like ___ romantic comedies, I prefer ___ thrillers, but I like ___ one you suggested last week.
15. Moving to ___ United States was a big decision, but not ___ best they took.
16. ___ employees don’t like it when their bonuses are being cut.
6. Comparing Adjectives
You should use adjectives as often as you can to describe people or things because they prove you have a wide range of vocabulary in speaking and writing. You may need to compare them using comparatives or superlatives, depending on what you are trying to say. There are a few rules you need to keep in mind:
- Most one-syllable adjectives take -er and -est at the end to form the comparative and the superlative.
My plan is safer than yours.
This is the safest plan of them all.
- Two-syllable adjectives can form the comparative and superlative either by adding -er and -est or by using more and the most. In most cases, both forms can be used.
This is a simpler version of what I’ve just said.
I’ve never lifted a heavier bag.
This is the narrowest path I’ve ever walked on.
His was the most complete answer I got.
- Adjectives of three or more syllables use more and the most to form the comparative and the superlative.
I’ve never heard a more beautiful song.
This is the most interesting story I’ve ever read.
Pay special attention to irregular adjectives that don’t follow the rules above:
good ⇒ better ⇒ the best
bad ⇒ worse ⇒ the worst
far ⇒ farther ⇒ the farthest
little ⇒ less ⇒ least
In the IELTS exam you may want to use adjectives to prove your wide range of vocabulary, but pay attention to spelling while taking the writing test.
- Adjectives ending in consonant + y: The y changes to an i when adding -er or -est.
Shiny ⇒ shinier ⇒ shiniest
Icy ⇒ icier ⇒ iciest
- Adjectives ending in e: The e is dropped when adding -er or -est.
Polite ⇒ politer ⇒ politest
Gentle ⇒ gentler ⇒ gentlest
- Adjectives ending in a consonant with a single vowel preceding it, double the consonant when adding -er or -est.
Big ⇒ bigger ⇒ biggest
Red ⇒ redder ⇒ reddest
Sad ⇒ sadder ⇒ saddest
Have a look at the following sentences and fill in the gaps with the correct comparative or superlative form:
17. This is the ___(fast) route to our destination.
18. The salad your mom makes is ___(delicious) than this one.
19. His report is ___(comprehensive) than I expected it to be.
7. Watch Out for Frequent Spelling Mistakes
Here’s a list of frequent spelling mistakes students make. Make sure you understand the rule behind each mistake so that in the IELTS Writing exam you don’t make these mistakes!
- Double l in adverbs. Normally, you can add –ly to many adjectives and turn them into adverbs. For example, interesting becomes the adverb interestingly. However, if the adjective ends in l already, then its adverb will have a double l:
Beautiful ⇒ beautifully
- Adding -ing and -ed to verbs. If the verb ends in an -e, then the -e is dropped before you add -ing or -ed:
Live ⇒ living ⇒ lived
Fake ⇒ faking ⇒ faked
- If the verb ends in a consonant + vowel + consonant pattern of letters, then we double the final consonant when adding -ing or -ed:
Plan ⇒ planning ⇒ planned
Stop ⇒ stopping ⇒ stopped
- If the verb ends in -ie, we change it to –ying when adding -ing:
Lie ⇒ lying
Die ⇒ dying
Now have a look at the following sentences and correct the spelling mistakes if you find any. Some sentences are correct.
20. I have never studyied Geography and I regret it.
21. They’ve been planing to visit, but never got the chance to do it.
22. The clock stopped working hours ago.
23. I’ve been listenning to this lecture for one hour and I still don’t get the point of it.
24. The little girl is tying her shoelaces.
25. He was fixing his bike when I got there.
These are just a few basic grammar rules you need to know to get a higher IELTS score. Remember that just doing IELTS tests is usually not enough. You need to improve your general level of English to notice progress.
The best part about learning grammar is that you feel more confident in all four skills—reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Before you leave, check out the answer key below to see how your answers were!
1. exercise, don’t like
2. shows, changed
3. am doing, don’t want
4. was watching, arrived
5. started, haven’t decided
7. has changed, started
8. be seen
9. (is) shown
10. were chosen
11. can’t be
12. can’t be
13. might have changed
14. -, -, the
15. the, the
18. more delicious
19. more comprehensive