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Common vocabulary mistakes in IELTS Writing and Speaking

Avoid these vocabulary mistakes and improve your IELTS Writing and Speaking band score
A common vocabulary mistake in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1
Did the number of complaints ‘rise’ or ‘raise’ between 2000 and 2008?

Do you know the difference in meaning between the words ‘rise‘ and ‘raise‘? What about ‘learn‘ and ‘teach‘, ‘lose‘ and ‘loose‘, or ‘care for‘ and ‘care about‘?

Do you know the difference in word form (i.e. verb, noun, adjective or adverb) between the words ‘convenience‘ and ‘convenient‘? What about ‘possible‘ and ‘possibly‘?

I’m asking you these questions because these are words that I’ve seen or heard many IELTS candidates make mistakes with in their writing or speaking.

To see how well you know the difference in meaning or form of these words, choose the correct word in italics in each of the examples below. (You can click on any of the words in italics for a dictionary definition).

  1. The number of complaints showed a dramatic rise / raise between…
  2. Schools should learn / teach children how to…
  3. lose / loose the freedom to choose…
  4. If the government really wants to care for / care about their citizens, they should provide…
  5. Technology makes our life much more convenienceconvenient.
  6. These problems are possible / possibly caused by…

All of these examples are from the writing or speaking of IELTS candidates who I know, and in each case the student used the wrong word.

If you make these kinds of mistakes too often in your IELTS Writing or Speaking test, it may prevent you from getting the band score you need.

Here’s what it says in the public version of the official IELTS descriptors for vocabulary in Writing Task 1 and 2:

  • IELTS band score 7: “[Candidate] may produce occasional errors in word choice and/or word formation”

If you want to check your answers to my questions above, post them in the comments section below and I’ll let you know if they are correct or not.

Pete

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10 comments on “Common vocabulary mistakes in IELTS Writing and Speaking

  1. 1- The number of complaints showed a dramatic raise
    2- Schools should learn children how to
    3- lose the freedom to choose…
    4- If the government really wants to care for
    5- Technology makes our life much more convenient
    6- These problems are possibly caused by

    1. Thanks for posting your answers, Ali.

      They are all correct except for number 1. You should use the noun ‘rise‘ to mean an increase in the amount or number of something (e.g. the number of complaints); you should only use the noun ‘raise‘ to mean an increase in how much you are paid at work (e.g. you can ask your boss for a raise).

      Pete

      Update: Please read the correction in my comment below.

  2. …hello..I’m somewhat confused with the answer in question no. 2…schools should learn children how to…can you further explain why its wrong to anwer teach? Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment. You’re right, ‘teach‘ is the right answer for Question 2 and ‘learn‘ is the wrong answer.

      You should say ‘Schools should teach children how to…‘ or ‘At school, children should learn how to…‘.

      I didn’t notice that Ali’s answer above to Question 2 was wrong.

      Pete

        1. Thanks for your question, Sushant.

          ‘Care for’ is to do what is necessary to help or protect someone – it is about doing something – e.g. If the government really wants to care for their citizens, they should provide adequate health care.

          ‘Care about’ is to want someone to be well and happy – it is about feeling something – e.g. If the government really cared about their citizens, they would provide adequate health care.

          Pete

  3. Hi I am unclear about what “less common lexical items” really means. Is “hire (someone)” less common or “take (someone) on”? Should I use “give information” or “provide information” in Task one? What about words like “skyrocket”, “soar”, “plunge” – are they too journalistic? My Longmans dictionary highlights the commonest 3000 words in red – are the rest “less common” or “uncommon”(cf band 8). Secondly, ielts.org states that Academic Task One is a test of the “academic register” but then says that the “academic” writing as a whole should be either in “academic style” or “semi-formal/neutral style” – what does this mean and which of the above vocabulary items are in which category and okay?

    1. Hi Feodor,

      I explain what ‘less common vocabulary‘ is, give some examples of this kind of vocabulary, and provide a link to a useful online resource in the blog post here. You can use the resource I recommend in that post – the Macmillan online dictionary – to check whether ‘hire‘ or ‘take on‘ is less common.

      The words ‘skyrocket‘, ‘soar‘ and ‘plunge‘ are all appropriate for IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 as they can used to describe particular changes shown in graphs and are not too informal.

      An academic or semi-formal/neutral style means a style that isn’t informal or conversational. For example, it would be too informal to use the word ‘whinge‘ to mean ‘complain‘ when summarising the graph in the post above because the word ‘whinge‘ is informal.

      Let me know if you have any other questions about this.

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