In the last couple of weeks, Pass IELTS Higher followers have been asking me to clarify the rules for punctuation in the IELTS writing exam.
I’ve said elsewhere that punctuation is key to achieving good marks in IELTS Writing.
This is a good question to ask as you might be losing marks in your grammatical range and accuracy column (GR) for not using your punctuation properly.
Be careful – Mobile phone messaging has done away with lots of punctuation rules and sometimes students carry this into the writing exam. If you have no full stops, your marks can go down to band 2 or 3 in the grammar column.
Here are some basic punctuation rules to follow for IELTS
Capital Letters and Full Stops
The most basic is that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends in a full stop.
Example: The government should raise taxes on private vehicles.
If you ask a question, you need to begin the sentence with a capital letter and end with a question mark.
A good use of this in the IELTS Writing Task 2 is when you use a rhetorical question to make a point.
It is thought that the only way to punish crime is to put the perpetrator of the crime or the criminal in prison. But is this true?
Do not use an exclamation mark in the IELTS writing exam. It is too informal. The exception to this is if you are asked to write a letter to a friend as part of IELTS Task 1 writing (General).
The use of the comma is quite tricky and will lose you marks in the IELTS Writing exam if you forget to use them.
Here are the most useful rules for commas
In a list
When you list various items, these are separated by commas apart from the last item which is then separated by ‘and’.
There are various ways to improve the problem with waste. People can recycle, buy goods without packaging and buy re-usable carrier bags.
The Oxford Comma
This type of comma is typically used by Americans. It is used in a list is so that there is no ambiguity of meaning in the sentence.
Example without Oxford Comma
There are reasons for doing this are to lower the crime rate, to keep people out of prison and to punish them. (Here the reader might understand that keeping people out of prison punishes them).
Example with Oxford Comma
The reasons for doing this are to lower the crime rate, to keep people out of prison, and to punish them. ( Here there is no ambiguity in the list given).
Commas with Linking Words/Expressions
Firstly, you need to understand what a clause is. A clause has a subject and a verb that says something about the subject.
Bill lives there.
Bill ( subject) lives there ( the verb that say something about Bill).
An independent clause makes sense by itself. This is also called a main clause.
People do not recycle.
A dependent clause does not make sense by itself. It belongs to the main clause to make sense and can come before, after or in the middle of the main clause.
Although it is law to recycle. (This must link to something else to make sense).
Examples of how a dependent clause may be used,
People do not recycle, although it is law to recycle.
Although it is law to recycle, people do not recycle.
People, although it is law to recycle, do not recycle.
There is an exercise in the Pass IELTS Higher members section to help you identify whether a clause is dependent or independent.
C0-ordinators are the following words
And, but, for, nor, or, so and yet.
These join 2 independent sentences. Some examples follow,
1. Without a co-ordinator
The government should impose a lower tax on vehicles. Imposing a lower tax on vehicles would encourage people to buy more cars.
1.With a co-ordinator
The government should impose a lower tax on vehicles, and imposing a lower tax on vehicles would encourage people to buy more cars.
2. Without a co-ordinator
The government should impose a higher tax on vehicles. A higher tax on vehicles would make cars more expensive.
2. With a co-ordinator
The government should impose a higher tax on vehicles, but a higher tax on vehicles would make cars more expensive.
3. Without a co-ordinator
Everyone voted for the present Prime Minister. She did not win the election.
3. With a co-ordinator
Everyone voted for the present Prime Minister, yet she did not win the election.
The Comma Splice
Remember you cannot join 2 independent clauses together with a comma. You must use a full stop, or you can use a semi-colon.
The government was voted in by the public, this is the best way to choose a government. = incorrect
The government was voted in by the public; this is the best way to choose a government. = correct
Linking words of contrast
Although, even though , however, nevertheless,nonetheless, whereas and while. These are used to link at least 2 independent clauses, where one contrasts to the other.
1. Although ICT has many good points,it also has its bad points, too. Even though has the same function as although but is stronger.
Although can also go in the middle of a sentence.
1a. ICT has many good points, although it also has its bad points, too.
2. However, nevertheless and nonetheless go at the beginning of a sentence, but this sentence is the second one of two sentences and introduces the contrast. These words also have a comma to separate that word from the clause. These 3 words can also go in the middle of the idea, or at the end of the sentence. (Note the change in the position of the comma).
2a. The government ought to introduce censorship on advertising for children. However, the usefulness of such an action depends on the parents.
2b. Discipline needs to be taught primarily in the home. Nevertheless, there is a place for this at school, as well.
2c. The government ought to introduce censorship on advertising for children. The usefulness of such an action depends on the parents, however.
2d. Discipline needs to be taught primarily in the home. There is, nevertheless, a place for this at school, as well.
3. Whereas and while (whilst = an older version of while) These 2 words join 2 independent clauses together when they introduce opposite ideas. The words can go at the beginning of the first sentence or after the comma separating the second sentence from the first.
3a.The UK drinks 1 million cups of tea every year, whereas they hardly drink any tea in Spain.
3b. Whereas The UK drinks 1 million cups of tea every year,they hardly drink any tea in Spain.
3c. 9 million people live in London , while only 3 million live in Madrid.
However, when while introduces the second half of a sentence which means at the same time, there is no comma.
3d. Scientific subjects should be included in the school syllabus while there is a place for the arts, too.
Despite, in spite of
These introduce an opposite idea to the one before and go at the beginning of a sentence. There is a grammatical difference in the grammatical way you use these 2 linkers.
1a. Despite + noun + clause, +contrasting clause
Despite tourism bringing in lots of money, it also causes a lot of environmental damage.
1b. Despite + gerund + clause, + contrasting clause
Despite bringing in lots of money, tourism also causes a lot of environmental damage.
2a. In spite of + noun + clause, + contrasting clause
In spite of the advantages mentioned, e-books have disadvantages for libraries.
2b. In spite of + gerund + clause, + contrasting clause
In spite of trying to educate the public to eat a healthy diet, many children are still obese.
Both expressions can be used with… the fact that…
3a. Despite the fact that tourism brings a lot of money to the country visited, it also causes a lot of environmental damage.
3b In spite of the fact that tourism brings a lot of money to the country visited,it also causes a lot of environmental damage.
These are clauses which use the words who, which, whose, whom and that (relative pronoun)
There are 2 kinds of relative clauses.
Sentences which begin with relative pronouns.
Who- people – subject relative clause
Which – things – subject relative clause
Whom – people (object)
whose – possessive
That – can replace who or which in the object relative clause
The defining relative clause – where all the information you use is necessary and you do not need commas.
The countries which have laws controlling carbon dioxide emissions have much better environments.
You cannot remove any of this information and keep the sense of the sentence.
The non-defining relative clause – where information you add is extra and you insert this extra information between commas in the sentence.
France, which is a member of the EEU, has had laws controlling CO2 emissions for half a century. (The information – which is a member of the EEU – is extra information and has been inserted in commas).
A mistake students often make is to use that instead of who and which in the subject relative clause. ‘That’ can only be used in the object defining relative clause.
People like to see the animals that are kept in zoos as they won’t have much chance to see them in the wild. (…animals that are kept in zoos…are the object of the sentence, there is no need for commas as the information is necessary and ‘which’ can be replaced by ‘that’).
Relative phrases with Time and Place
Where and When. These words show which time or place is meant.
- In the United States, where half the population is divorced, a quarter of Americans are single and a quarter remain married.
- In the UK, when phone calls were made, half were done using mobiles.
When the word that introduces the conditional sentence is at the beginning, there is a comma in the middle of the 2 clauses.
If a higher vehicle tax were imposed on all vehicles, it would raise extra funding for the improvement of a country’s infrastructure.
It would raise extra funding for the improvement of a country’s infrastructure if a higher vehicle tax were imposed on all vehicles.
(The same clauses are written with the conditional clause second and no comma is used).
Phrases which introduce a sentence
- At the beginning of the 21st Century, the causes of pollution started to mount up.
- Having discussed these various points of view,what can be assumed is that this will only have advantages.
- In the year 2000, the number of women taking postgraduate courses more than doubled.
There is lots more practice in our members area.
Now it is your turn
In this article I have tried to answer as many of your questions as I can. Read these explanations and put them into practice. Doing this will improve your grammar score.
If you still have any questions, please write a comment or register below to ask me for explanations.
Good luck with making your writing more accurate.