Let’s start with a question. You’re thinking about ‘linking words’. Many students ask about ‘linking words’; they ask things like, “What linking words should I use in my IELTS essay?” But what are ‘linking words’, and why are they important?
1. What Do Linking Words Do?
What are linking words? How would you answer this question? First, ‘linking words’ includes both words and phrases. There are single words, like ‘however’, and phrases, like ‘as a result.’ Secondly, linking words can be conjunctions, like ‘and’ or ‘because’, which you use in the middle of a sentence. Linking words can also be adverbs, like ‘consequently’ or ‘on the other hand’, which you generally use at the start of a new sentence.
Next, what do linking words do? Why do you need to use them? This is an important question, but it has a simple answer: linking words make your writing clearer for your reader. That’s it. There’s no other reason to use linking words. Remember this, because many of the problems which IELTS students have with linking words relate to this point. Don’t use linking words because you want to sound academic, or because you want to impress the examiner, or because you think using linking words is necessary to get higher scores. It is necessary to use linking words to get higher scores, but you need to use them in the right way. You use linking words to make the structure of your ideas clearer. What does this mean? Let’s look at an example together. Read this sentence:
- Overreliance on private cars not only leads to more congestion, but also causes severe air pollution in many large cities.
Next, imagine that the next sentence starts with ‘also,’ ‘on the other hand,’ or ‘consequently’. What do these tell you? What do you know if you see that the first word of the next sentence is ‘also’? What’s the difference between using ‘also’ or ‘on the other hand’? These linking words show you the direction of the next sentence. If the next sentence starts with ‘also’, you know that it will add another, similar point. If it starts with ‘on the other hand’, you know that the writer will make a contrasting point. If it starts with ‘consequently’, you know that the writer will describe a result of this situation. This is why you use linking words, and this is why they can be powerful if used correctly. In this example, you can know the general idea of the next sentence before you read it. This makes your writing easier to follow.
Next, let’s look at the details of using linking words well in your IELTS writing tasks.
2. Linking Words by Function
Learning about linking words and phrases for your IELTS writing exam can be overwhelming. There are so many words and phrases: ‘in addition’, ‘although’, ‘except for’, ‘due to’… There are tens of things you could study. However, we’ve got good news for you! You don’t need to learn big lists of words. So, what should you do? The best way is to think about linking words in terms of function. You also need to understand the grammar of the linking words you study, which you’ll learn about in the next section. But first, what do we mean by ‘function’? Many different linking words do the same job. For example, ‘however’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘nevertheless’ and ‘although’ all show a contrast between two related—but different—things. This doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same, but they are similar.
So, what else can linking words do? Linking words can connect similar ideas together. Let’s call this ‘addition’. A very simple example is ‘and’. You can also use ‘furthermore’, ‘in addition’, ‘also’, or ‘moreover’. Linking words can show the reason or purpose of something, like ‘because’, ‘due to’, ‘in order to’, or ‘so that’. You can use linking words to connect a cause and effect, like ‘therefore’, ‘so’, ‘consequently’ or ‘as a result’. There are others, but this is a good starting point. Remember these four functions: contrast, addition, reason or purpose, and cause-effect. Let’s practise! Look at four sentences. Each has a linking word or phrase highlighted in bold. Can you say what function the linking word or phrase has in each sentence?
- In my personal experience, people certainly spend less time reading books than in the past. I think this is due to the variety of digital entertainment options that people have nowadays.
- Eating a high-sugar diet has been linked to several serious diseases, most prominently diabetes. Moreover, it causes tooth decay and dental problems.
- Although advertising is ubiquitous in the modern world, it is also largely ineffective.
- Many schools now spend most of their teaching time preparing children to pass exams. As a result, many young people lack the practical skills which employers are seeking.
Ready? Let’s look at the answers. In the first sentence, ‘due to’ expresses a reason. In the second sentence, ‘moreover’ expresses addition. You’re making one point, then using ‘moreover’ to add a second point on the same topic. In the third sentence, ‘although’ shows a contrast. In the fourth sentence, ‘as a result’ connects a cause and its effect. So, what should you do here? Here’s the most important point: you don’t need to know every linking word and phrase to get a high score in your IELTS writing exam. You need maybe two or three linking words for each function. That means you need two to three linking words to express addition, two to three linking words to express contrast, and so on.
There’s one thing you should know: linking words can have other functions which we haven’t covered here. That’s because we don’t want this lesson to be hours long. Examples include: showing similarity, showing a sequence of events in time, or expressing conditions. However, the basic idea is the same. Don’t try to learn big lists of linking words. Instead, focus on functions. For each function, learn two to three linking words and phrases. This is simpler and easier for you. You should do this now: write down a list of functions, and write down two to three linking words for each. You can use the functions and linking words from this section, or you can add your own. Pause the video and do it now!
Ready? Let’s see what else you need to know to use linking words and phrases well in your IELTS writing exam.
3. Linking Word Grammar
To use a linking word or phrase well in your writing, you need to know two things. One: you need to know the function, which you learned about in the last section. Two: you need to know the grammar of the linking word or phrase. Let’s look at this now!
Linking words and phrases can be divided into three categories. First, some linking words are conjunctions. Most are subordinating conjunctions, meaning that they need to be used in a sentence with at least two clauses. For example, ‘because’ and ‘although’ are both subordinating conjunctions. After these words, you add a clause. Then, you need another, independent clause to complete the sentence. For example:
- I need to ask for some time off work because I am planning to attend a training course.
- Although social media can help people to connect with each other, it also has several significant disadvantages.
Secondly, some linking words are prepositions. This means you need to use a noun after the linking word. ‘Due to’, ‘despite’ and ‘because of’ are all prepositions. For example:
- Despite the well-known health benefits of regular exercise, many people still lead mostly sedentary lifestyles.
- Young professionals are increasingly moving to smaller cities because of the high cost of living in large urban centres.
Finally, many linking words are adverbs, like ‘on the other hand’ or ‘therefore’. These are generally used at the beginning of a sentence. When you use adverbs like this, you need to put a comma afterwards. For example:
- Freedom of the press is more important than individuals’ rights to privacy. Therefore, newspapers should be able to publish stories about the private lives of celebrities if they choose to.
- Of course, elderly people should be paid a pension which reflects the money they paid into the social security system during their working lives. On the other hand, the pension system needs to be sustainable over the long term.
This is most of what you need to know about linking word grammar. Is your linking word or phrase a conjunction, a preposition, or an adverb? We have a task for you! At the end of part two, you wrote down linking words that you wanted to learn. Now, use an online dictionary like Cambridge or Longman, and find out if the words you wrote down are conjunctions, prepositions, or adverbs. Find links to some useful dictionaries on the Oxford Online English Resources page.
Done? There are still a couple of things you need to think about. One problem is that similar-looking words can be different parts of speech. For example, ‘because’ is a conjunction, but ‘because of’ is a preposition. ‘In spite of’ is a preposition, but ‘in spite of the fact that’ is a conjunction. So, don’t assume that linking words are used in the same way just because they look similar. Another problem is that some linking words can be more than one part of speech. For example, ‘so’ can be an adverb or a conjunction. What should you do with this information? Let’s look in more detail!
4. Using Linking Words in Your IELTS Writing
At this point, you hopefully have short lists of linking words, divided by function. You should also know which part of speech each linking word is. Let’s think: why are you doing things in this way? How will this help you in your IELTS writing exam? Here’s what you need to remember: it’s much more effective to know a small number of linking words or phrases and know how to use them really well. Many IELTS students take the opposite path. They learn lots and lots of linking words, but they don’t know how to use them correctly. This won’t help your IELTS writing score. It’s much more important to focus on accuracy.
So, what should you do next? Your next task is to find out exactly how your linking words are used. Linking words with the same function aren’t always the same. Many linking words have a very specific meaning. For example, ‘furthermore’ and ‘besides’ are both used to add information to a topic, but they aren’t the same. Do you know why not? ‘Furthermore’ is used to add a point which is more important than your first idea. For example:
- Using plastic products generates litter which harms the environment. Furthermore, plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade.
In this case, you’re saying that the second point, after ‘furthermore’ is more important than the first point. ‘Besides’ is used to add a point which is often less important than your main idea. For example:
- Smoking has been proven to cause many serious illnesses. Besides, it is an expensive habit.
In this case, you’re saying that the second point, after ‘besides’, is not more important than the first point. You’re adding an extra point which is not essential to your argument. We’re not doing this because you need to learn about ‘furthermore’ and ‘besides’. The point is that every linking word is used in a slightly different way. To improve your IELTS writing score, you need to understand exactly how to use linking words. How can you do this? Here are a few suggestions. First, use online dictionaries to find example sentences. The Cambridge dictionary has many examples for each word.
Next, try to understand what makes this linking word different from other, similar linking words. Is it more formal, or more conversational? Is it only used in very specific situations?
Finally, check your ideas. If you can ask a teacher, then do that. If not, use online resources such as Quora or the Wordreference forums. By the way, you can find links to all the resources mentioned in this lesson below the video. This is a big topic, and there’s a lot of information in this video; however, you haven’t even seen the most important thing about linking words yet…
5. Linking Words and Logic
Here’s the most important idea about linking words: you can’t connect ideas with linking words. What? That doesn’t make sense, you say. What do linking words do if they don’t connect ideas? Linking words don’t connect ideas; they highlight a connection which is already there. They make the connection—which already exists—clearer to your reader. This is important because it’s one of the biggest problems IELTS students have with linking words. IELTS candidates know they need to use linking words, so they do. But, very often, their linking words don’t fit the logic of their ideas. This is a common feature of band six writing.
Here’s an example, which is from a real practice essay written by one of our students:
- On the other hand, one of the major counter argument is that we are living in a consumer society, where trade war is very common between manufacturing companies and countries. For instance, if a vast amount of information is delivered from the mobile giant Apple, then it could lose not only its leadership but also its huge business in this modern sophisticated world.
We see this problem all the time. There’s a linking phrase—‘for instance’—which should be used to introduce an example of the preceding point. But, in this case, the points before and after the linking word are not obviously connected at all. The point after ‘for instance’ is certainly not an example of a trade war between manufacturing companies or countries. Remember: this is very common, and it’s also a common reason why students can’t get scores above six or six point five. If you do this in your writing, your coherence and cohesion score will be limited to six maximum. We’ll say it again: you can’t create a connection by using a linking word or phrase. The connection is already there, in the logic of your ideas. You use the linking word to highlight the connection which already exists.
So, to use linking words well, you need to have a clear understanding of your essay structure and how your ideas are organised. This mostly depends on planning before you start writing your answer. If your ideas aren’t well-organised in your mind, then using linking words won’t help you. Like you heard, this is a big topic, so let’s review what you should do.
- Divide linking words according to the idea they express. Start by learning two to three linking words or phrases for each function.
- Understand the grammar of each linking word; find out what part of speech it is, and how to use it in a sentence.
- Go into more detail. Many words have a similar meaning, but very few words have exactly the same meaning. Most words have unique features which you need to know about if you want to use the word well.
- Practise planning and make sure your ideas are well-organised before you start writing. Effective linking depends on logic and structure, not on the words and phrases you use.
Good luck if you have an IELTS exam coming up soon, and thanks for watching!