There are many misconceptions concerning the use of complex sentences in IELTS. Some believe you need only to use complex sentences in the essay to score beyond Band 7, while others think you need to use only a handful of complex sentences throughout the essays. We are here to bust all the myths about using complex sentences in IELTS and let you know the reality.
IELTS Writing Marking Criteria
If you take a look at the IELTS Band descriptors, you will find that:
- In order to get a band 6 for grammar you need to use a mix of simple and complex sentences.
- For band 7 it states, you need to use a variety of complex structures.
This clearly means that you must use complex sentences in our writing. However, it does not mean that all of your sentences need to be complex. All band 9 answers use a mixture of both simple and complex sentences. The key is to know when to use them.
You use a complex sentence when you are introducing a complex idea. If an idea is best expressed in simple sentence, then there is absolutely no need to turn it into a complex sentence. Let us now see what a complex sentence actually is.
What are Complex Sentences?
Complex sentences do not mean complicated, long or impressive sentences. This is a common misconception and leads to students writing very long and grammatically incorrect sentences that are very difficult to understand.
‘In the modern world, global warming is one of the most popular topics causing many environmental difficulties and tough challenges arising from its serious consequences.’
This is a sentence from an essay that is trying too hard to look complex. Here four simple ideas are being introduced into one paragraph and the result is an awkward and incoherent sentence. The control of the grammar is lost here turning it into a meaningless bunch of words.
‘Complex’ sentences are not actually very complex; they are just two or more simple sentences put together. Putting them together makes the essay more coherent and cohesive. Let’s look at the first example again.
In the sentence above there are four simple ideas that we can put into simple sentences:
1. Global warming is a common topic these days.
2. Global warming causes environmental problems.
3. There are tough challenges associated with global warming.
4. Global warming has very serious consequences.
If we write all of our sentences in the IELTS exam like this we lose marks because they are too simple. What we need to do is put them together to make complex sentences.
‘One of the most common environmental issues is global warming which causes many serious environmental problems. There are tough challenges associated with this issue and its effects have very serious consequences.’
How to Construct Complex Sentences?
One important thing to remember is that a complex sentence is simply, more than one simple sentence put together to make one sentence. We therefore need to learn and become confident using the various grammatical structures that allow us to do that. Below are a few ways we can link ideas together in a sentence by constructing complex sentences:
- To make a complex sentence we normally should have two things- a dependent clause and an independent clause. A clause is a group of words with both a subject and a verb.
For example: ‘I wore a warm coat because the weather was cold.’
Here ‘I wore a warm coat’ is the main clause as it is a complete sentence with subject verb and object, ‘because the weather was cold’ is the subordinate clause as it does not make any sense on its own.
- You can use relative clauses to give essential or extra information about a person, place, or thing. This makes our writing more fluent and more coherent. We do this by using relative pronouns like who, which and that.
‘Air pollution can cause health problems. Air pollution is largely caused by motor vehicles.’
We can convert these two simple sentences into one complex sentences by using the word ‘which’.
‘Air pollution, which is mostly caused by motor vehicles, can cause health problems.’
- Conditional clauses also known as ‘If clauses’ are used to express that the action in the main clause can only take place if a certain condition is met.
‘If I had a million dollars, I would quit my job.’
‘I will be really happy, if I move to Italy.’
How to Use Complex Sentences in your writing?
Normally, you should use simple sentences when making main points; at the beginning of a paragraph. You should then use complex sentences when expanding on the main point, for instance when giving a supporting example or explaining your main point. Let us look at an example to illustrate this further:
‘Increasing taxes would raise prices and lower consumption. Fast food companies would pass on these taxes to consumers in the form of higher prices and this would lead to people not being able to afford junk food. For instance, the cost of organic food has proven prohibitively expensive for most people. Despite this, people in many developed countries, where the problem is most acute, can afford price hikes and will continue to eat high-fat meals.’
• The first sentence is the ‘topic sentence’ and makes the main point. It is therefore acceptable for this to be a simple sentence.
• The second sentence explains the main point and uses the word ‘and’ to link two simple sentences together, to make one complex sentence.
• The third sentence gives an example and uses the linking phrase ‘for instance’.
• The final sentence makes a concession (shows the limitation of the argument) and is also a complex sentence, linking more than one idea together.
This paragraph has a mix of simple and complex sentences and therefore satisfies the marking criteria.
A correctly written ‘Complex Sentence’, represents a bunch of information in a complete sentence. This naturally showcases your ability to write coherently which is a big win in IELTS writing. If you know how and where to use complex sentences you will naturally score well.