Useful synonyms for IELTS

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In this podcast we look at synonyms you can use for IELTS writing task 2. Since lexical resources account for 25% of your score, according to the band descriptors, a higher level IELTS band score requires precise, sophisticated and flexible use as well as, of course, a wide range of vocabulary.

So, is it enough to memorize lists of synonyms for commonly used words?  Not exactly. Context is very important, as are collocations.

What are collocations??

Collocations are words that are used together not for any specific grammatical reason, but rather because through usage over time they “fit” together. This is why we can say that a city is large or enormous but we are very unlikely to say that it is substantial.  You can easily discover which words collocate by searching online.  

For example, you can type the word + collocation and different resources including online dictionaries will pop up. Or you can type the word + in a sentence and many different examples of how the word is used will be shown.

Why do you need to use synonyms?

  1. Some words should be replaced with synonyms because they are imprecise and rather low level.   Examples of this are:  good, bad, big, small and nice.  It is correct to say, “Fossil fuels are bad for the environment,” but it lacks the sophistication you would expect to see in a higher level answer.  Here, we would prefer the word, “damaging” or “harmful.”

2. Context is important when using synonyms for words like, “important.”   While “essential” is a synonym, it is inappropriate to say, “Addiction to the internet is an essential issue of our time.  Instead, you could use it instead of “important” when you use the expression, “It is important that government deal with XYZ…..”  Or, you could use “critical,” or “vital.”

3. Sometimes you need synonyms to avoid repetition. This is common in essays about children.   It becomes monotonous to keep using the word “children,” but what alternatives can you use? While a toddler and an adolescent are children, not all children are toddlers and adolescents, so you can’t use these words interchangeably.  Instead, you could use, “the youth,” “the young,” “minors,” or “juveniles.”   “Kids” should be avoided always as it is informal.

4. Lastly, idiomatic expressions should be avoided as well since they are not particularly academic.

Instead of:

Make an effort,” use “considerable effort should be devoted to…

Do a good job,” should be “perform well

Do research” should be “conduct research

Get famous” can be replaced with “acquire fame

Get a degree” is improved with “earn a degree

Get skills” sounds more academic with “obtain skills.

Here is a list of some common synonyms to use in your IELTS essay.

  • Bad  - atrocious, base, contaminated, contemptible, corrupt, defective, deficient, deplorable, depraved, despicable, detestable, disagreeable, dismal, evil, faulty, harmful, heinous, horrible, immoral, imperfect, improper, inappropriate,  infamous, inferior, injurious, irascible, nefarious, noxious, obnoxious, outrageous, scandalous, sinister, spoiled, substandard, tainted, unfavorable, unpleasant, unsuitable, wicked, wrong
  • Big -ample, astronomical, colossal, enormous, expansive, gargantuan, gigantic, grand, great, huge, immense, large, sizable, spacious, substantial, tremendous, vast
  • Important -, Critical, essential, famous, indispensable, necessary, notable, valuable, vital
  • Children-  the  youth,  the young,  minors , juveniles
  • Do - accomplish, achieve, attain, enact, execute, finish
  • Get - accept,  accumulate, collect, derive, earn, find, gain, gather, glean, obtain, procure, regain, secure, win,
  • Good – advantageous, agreeable, apt, beneficial, capable, excellent, favorable,  fine, friendly, generous, genuine,  gracious, grand,  great, kindly, marvelous,  obedient, honorable, obliging, pleasant, pleasurable, profitable, proper, qualified, reliable,  respectable, righteous, satisfactory, splendid, sterling, suitable, suited, superb, superior, trustworthy, valid, well-behaved, wonderful, worthy.

Do you need more help with learning new vocabulary? Here is a list of useful resources:

Audio tutorial 

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