Master Punctuation marks in IELTS Writing exam

Punctuation in IELTS Writing

Master Punctuation marks in IELTS Writing exam

Punctuation in IELTS Writing
Punctuation in IELTS Writing

You may not have thought about punctuation before, but the correct use of commas, semi-colons and other punctuation marks is very important in IELTS Writing.

The examiners will assess your ability to write in the academic style correctly, and punctuation is very important in academic writing.

To understand how punctuation works in English, it’s essential to know how sentences are built.

Let’s take a look at most common types of sentences, also shown on the diagram below, and the punctuation required in them.

Types of Sentences In English Language

1. Simple sentence

The most basic type is a simple sentence consisting of at least two parts: a subject and a verb.


– The cost of living has increased.

– Smoking should be banned.

A simple sentence can also be called an independent clause as it contains a complete thought in itself and can stand alone.

Mind that simple sentences are considered too short and ineffective to be used in academic writing.

2. Compound sentence

When two or more independent clauses are combined, they form a compound sentence.

The clauses are typically joined with the help of coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.

  • Commas should be used before but, yet and nor.

The new testing system will not help teachers, nor will it encourage students to do better.

Many teenagers may wish to continue their education, but rising college fees can become a hurdle.

  • Commas are optional before and or or, they are recommended with longer clauses.

Winter came and prices fell.

Winter came decreasing the consumption of cold drinks (,) and prices fell predictably.

  • A semicolon can be used to separate two independent clauses which are connected semantically. No conjunctions are needed in this case.

The percentage rose to 20% in 2005; it went even up even higher by the end of the interval.

Coordinating conjunctions are helpful to connect two sentences; however, if overused, compound sentences can weaken writing.

This is especially true about sentences with conjunction “and”, which does not express a strong relationship between two independent clauses.

3. Complex sentence

Clearer relationships can be seen in complexes sentences made up of an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Dependent clauses are similar to independent ones in that they too must have a subject and a verb, but they cannot be used as individual sentences.

For example:

Because alcoholic drinks are not sold to people under 18, few teenagers in the country have drinking problems.

“Because alcoholic drinks are not sold to people under 18…” – is the dependent clause which cannot be used individually.

few teenagers in the country have drinking problems” – is the main clause which can make a complete sentence on its own, given that it is capitalized.

Types of Dependent clauses

Dependent clauses come in three types: noun, adjective (or relative) and adverb, and they start with specific words depending on the type.

1. Noun Clause

Acting as a noun in a complex sentence, a noun clause names a person, thing, place or idea, and starts with one of the following words:

who, whom, what, which, whoever, whomever, whatever, when, where, how, why.

  • Whatever happened to us in the past should not define our personality. (as a subject)
  • People often realize what they have done wrong too late. (as an object)

No punctuation is necessary between the noun clause and the main clause.

2. Adjective clause

Like adjectives, adjective or relative clauses modify nouns or pronouns and start with words such as: that, which, who, whom, whose, where, why.

  • The reason why many people are afraid of changes is that they are afraid to lose their current position.
  • Necessity is the power that motivates people to create and invent.

 Adjective clauses may add “essential” or “non-essential” information.

If the adjective clause adds “non-essential” information, that is, the meaning of the sentence does not change without the adjective clause, commas should be used around the clause.

Do not use commas if the information is “essential” or changes the meaning of the whole sentence if omitted


  • People hate politicians who lie. (only those politicians are hated who tell lies.)
  • I hate politicians, who lie. (I believe all politicians tell lies, so I hate them all.)

3. Adverb clause

Adverb clauses act as adverbs and modify verbs in the main clause.

These clauses should start with the following subordinate conjunctions: after, although, as, because, before, even though, if, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, wherever, while.

Because alcoholic drinks are not sold to people under 18, few teenagers in the country have drinking problems.

After oil is extracted, it is sent to processing plants.

Young people should heed their parents’ opinion although it is important to make independent decisions.

In most complex sentences, you can change places of clauses by using the correct punctuation:

  • When the dependent clause comes first, a comma should be inserted between the two clauses.

While the price went down slowly, the demand for the product soared.

  • When the independent clause comes first, a comma should not be placed between the two clauses.

The demand for the product soared while the price went down slowly.

You should incorporate a variety of sentence structures in your writing to make it engaging and attractive for the reader.

Use fewer simple and more complex sentences to make your ideas clear and easy to follow.

Punctuation marks

Now you know what sentence types you’d better use in your writing work. 

Also, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with most common types of punctuation marks.

Let’s look at the individual cases of using comma, colon, and semicolon, which can be of practical use in IELTS Writing.

1. Comma

Most frequent uses of a comma in report and essay writing are the following:

  • To separate items in a list. It’s common to use “and” or “or” between the last two items; in this case comma is optional.

Many people from the East are migrating to Germany, Belgium, Netherlands (,) and the UK.

  • To separate adjectives relating to the same noun, unless there is “and” between them.

Experienced, quick-thinking employees make great managers.

Experienced, quick-thinking and enthusiastic employees make great managers.

  • To single out adjective (relative) clauses that do not contain essential information, that is, that can be omitted altogether.

Economic decline, which went on for almost a decade, affected all aspects of the country’s social life.

  • To indicate apposition, that is, two noun phrases placed side by side and referring to the same person or thing.

The most popular event of the year, the Olympic Games, attracted over five thousand visitors to the country.

  • To indicate the position of an adverbial clause before the main clause.

If children are largely neglected by their parents, they can grow into irresponsible members of the society.

  • To single out linking adverbs and phrases from the rest of the sentence.

However, many parents vote against vaccination.

Many parents, however, vote against vaccination.

Many parents vote against vaccination, however.

In addition, e-readers can save a lot of students’ time that would otherwise be spent obtaining textbooks from shops or libraries.

  • Between the name of a place and a county, state, or a country in which it is located.

The line graph shows the percentage of visitors to four different attractions in Edinburgh, Scotland.

2. Colon

Although much less frequent than commas, colons are used:

  • To introduce explanation for what is said in the first part of the sentence. Here, colon acts as a replacement for “because, since or as” which express reason.

Gun control laws should be revised because too many people own weapons which they can use in illegal activities.

Gun control laws should be revised: too many people own weapons which they can use in illegal activities.

  • To give more specific information about the first part of the sentence. In this case, colon substitutes linking words introducing details.

The numbers of victims of school shootings in the US are shocking, that is, since the beginning of 2018 more people have been shot on school grounds than police officers in the line of duty. 

The numbers of victims of school shootings in the US are shocking: since the beginning of 2018 more people have been shot on school grounds than police officers in the line of duty. 

  • To introduce a list of items.

Electronic reading materials have several advantages over traditional books: a much lower ultimate cost of obtaining e-books, the convenience of buying and accessing material online, and almost infinite number of electronic books that can be stored. 

3. Semicolon

Another punctuation mark that can be useful in academic writing is the semicolon. It is used:

  • To separate semantically connected independent clauses in a compound sentence, as an alternative to a full stop.

The percentage rose to 20% in 2005; it went even up even higher by the end of the interval.

  • To separate long and complex items in a list.

The requirement to wear a uniform to school solves a range of problems: it helps students focus on studies rather than looks; it prevents parents from spending too much on different kinds of clothes; it encourages equality between children from rich and poor backgrounds.

4. Brackets/parentheses

Brackets/parentheses or commas can be used to introduce parenthetical information.

A slightly higher percentage of visitors (55%) went to the Aquarium than to the Festival (50%).

5. Capitalization

Capital letters should be used to start sentences, names of people and places and in many other circumstances:

  • People – Susan Smith
  • Places – Trafalgar Square
  • Days of the week – Monday, Thursday…
  • The months – January, March…
  • Nationalities – Greek, French…
  • Planets – Jupiter, Saturn…

Summing Up

As you read different kinds of texts, mind the use of punctuation marks in them. Refer back to the rules or ask someone if something is unclear.

By making a concerted effort to study and remember punctuation use, you will increase your chances of producing error-free writing.

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