IELTS advanced speaking techniques: emphatic sentence structure

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In this tutorial you will learn:

  • The importance of emphatic sentence structure
  • How to use it
  • IELTS specific examples

This will help you in your IELTS speaking exam because:

  • You will develop a range of complex structures to use when you’re answering questions in parts 1, 2 and 3.

Emphatic structure

One way to raise the level of your English, when you are taking the IELTS speaking exam, is by using emphatic structure and inversion.

As well as making your English sound more sophisticated, these structures let you avoid being repetitive and show the examiner that you can use complex English appropriately.

It is these things which will help lift your level and allow you to get a higher band score.

Using cleft sentences for emphasis

A cleft sentence is basically a sentence which is in two parts because it has two verbs. It is particularly useful in IELTS speaking as it helps add emphasis.

During the speaking test you will almost certainly be asked to talk about things you like, or why you do/did something. Cleft sentences are perfect to use in these situations. Look at the sentences below:

  • I really like going to the cinema with my friends
  • What I really like is going to the cinema with my friends

The second sentence emphasises the information we want our listener to focus on. Therefore, it demonstrates that you can use more complex English structures to communicate more effectively.


  • What-clauses...
  • The reason (why)...
  • The thing (that)...
  • The person (who)...
  • The place (where)...
  • The time (which/when)...


  • I feel most content in my family home.                                                   ‘Normal’ sentence
  • The place where I feel most content is my family home.                     Emphatic sentence

Grammatically, we put the person, place or thing at the beginning of the sentence. Then we use the verb ‘be’ and the emphasised phrase. Let’s take a look at some additional examples.

  • What I like the most is summer.
  • The reason that I am learning English is to get a job in hospitality.
  • The place (where) I most enjoyed going was to my grandparent’s house.
  • The people I try to avoid are the ones who are too cynical.
  • The thing restaurants need to remember is that not everyone eats meat.
  • The music that I hate the most is modern jazz.

From the last four examples, we can see that we often use this structure to express an emotive response or reaction.

The verbs- enjoy, dislike, adore, hate, like, loathe, love, need, prefer, want, etc., are often used in these types of sentences.

How to use cleft sentences in IELTS speaking part 1

You will almost certainly be asked questions about either your likes or dislikes or your opinions about things.

Typical questions could include:

What kind of music do you like?

Do you think it is better for children to grow up in the city or the countryside?

Look at the way you can use emphasis and inversion below:

  • What I really enjoy the most is...
  • The thing I like about the country is….

How to use it in IELTS speaking part 2

Look at the way you can use emphasis and inversion to answer the question below:

Describe a piece of art you like.

You should say:

  • What the work is.
  • When you first saw it.
  • What you know about it
  • And explain why you like it

The piece of work that I like the most is Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh. I first saw it when I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. What I love about it is the……

How to use it in IELTS Speaking Part 3

Now let’s look at a sample question for part 3 and how you can use the same structure to answer the question.

Examiner: How has art changed in the last few decades in your country?

Candidate: The thing that has most changed in the last few decades is the concept of art. Nowadays people consider graffiti as art. The place where this is most obvious is in big cities like New York and London.

The structures that we have looked at will help improve your English and learning them will also give you useful phrases which you can almost certainly use in the IELTS speaking exam.

Knowing some of them, and how they are used, gives you a template for answering questions, and you should not find yourself in a situation where you can't think of anything to say.

To help you internalise and learn faster these cleft sentences and emphatic structures, I’ve prepared a brief recording of a sample task 2.

Once again, if you can guess the accent of the speaker then email us your guess, the first five correct answers will get an essay correction for free!

Describe a piece of art you like.

You should say:

  • What the work is.
  • When you first saw it.
  • What you know about it
  • And explain why you like it

Sample Answer:

Well to be honest, I must admit I am not a massive art fan, however, the piece of art I love the most would most definitely be by the English artist called Banksy.

He is quite a mysterious and secretive artist yet he’s reached global stardom. I should mention that I haven’t actually seen his work in real life, the place I saw it was on the internet, if I recall correctly.

What I know about it is that last year this specific piece of art was put up for auction in London, and at the exact time it was sold, it started to self destruct. Hidden inside the frame was a shredder, and the artwork dropped through the internal shredder and was pretty much destroyed.

The reason why I like it so much is because this was a truly unique point in art history. Nothing like this had ever been done before. I think the art work immediately shot up in value after this incident.

Audio tutorial

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Did you know we cover similar IELTS material in the online course?

Above are the chapters from the Speaking Confidence course, which is included in our famous IELTS course: Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free.