This lesson looks at clauses and sentences in order to help test-takers understand why sentence variety is important for IELTS grammar scores.

To start, we will look at the basic names for clauses and sentence types, and explain why it matters for IELTS.

What is a clause?

A clause is a group of words that contains a subject (the thing doing the action) and a verb. Below are three example clauses:

1. John drank water
2. The British Government made a poor decision.
3. No one can walk without legs.
4. They all said, “stop!”.

These four examples are known as independent clauses. These clauses are independent because they can be complete sentences on their own. However, this is not true for all clauses.

To understand this difference we will use the underlined sentence above. This sentence has been divided into two clauses, and the subjects and verbs are highlighted:

1. These clauses are independent            2. because they can be complete sentences on their own.

Now read one clause without reading the other. Can they make sense without the other clause?

The first clause can make sense on its own (because it is independent) whereas the second clause cannot be a sentence on its own (unless it is a reply to a question, but then it depends on the question). To make sense it needs the information in the first clause; it is dependent

Logically, therefore, all English sentence types must contain an independent clause. The naming of complete sentence types depends on the additions we make to the independent clause. The list below shows the four basic additions and the sentence types produced.

1. Independent clause  =  simple sentence (e.g. I ate a cucumber.)
2. Independent clause + independent clause  = compound sentence (e.g. I ate a cucumber and I drank some tea.)
3. Independent clause + dependent clause  =  complex sentence* (e.g. I ate a cucumber although I wasn't hungry.)
4. Independent clause + independent clause + dependent clause  =   compound-complex sentence* (e.g. I ate a cucumber and I drank some tea although I wasn't hungry.)

*not necessarily in this order

Why does this matter for IELTS?

IELTS examiners look for complex sentences when grading essays for grammar. In the IELTS scoring criteria, complex sentence use is a key feature in awarding a band 5, 6 or 7.

Band 5: attempts complex sentences but these tend to be less accurate than simple sentences
Band 6: uses a mix of simple and complex sentence forms
Band 7: uses a variety of complex structures

A common mistake in IELTS is both IELTS writing and speaking is overusing simple and/or compound sentences. The paragraph below shows an example of this:

Cars cause a lot of pollution. Many cars are old and produce exhaust fumes. These cars should be banned, but people still drive them everyday. The government must make new laws. This will help to reduce pollution.

This paragraph lacks any grammar that an examiner can use to award higher than a band 5.

Click on the links below to find out how to write more advanced sentence structures:

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