Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Features of discourse

Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Features of discourse – Diagnose Test, Grammar Explanation & Practice Exercises

A      DIAGNOSTIC TEST: Features of discourse

Circle the better option (a or b) for each space (1-7) in the text. Both options are grammatically correct; choose the most appropriate in the context.

Jane and Tom had been looking for a new home to buy for ages and they were excited about viewing the empty house in Garfield Road. (1)……..        so it was quite easy to find. Walking up to the front door they noticed that the garden was extremely unkempt and full of rubbish. (2)         ………. Unfortunately the inside of the house was little better. From the state of the hallway it was clear that nobody had lived there for many years. Undaunted, Jane made straight for the kitchen. (3)…………. It wasn’t a pleasant sight. (4)………. Jane decided to see if the reception rooms were any better and walked back into the hall. (5)………………… It was empty of furniture but with  growing excitement Jane noticed a large boarded-up fireplace. She shouted for Tom to come and look at it. (6)……………. So few houses had big fireplaces these days, and there was nothing she loved more than a house with a blazing log fire. (7)………………


a They knew the old church was opposite it.

b They knew it was opposite the old church.


a There was a burnt-out sofa and an old fridge which was lying on its side.

b A burnt-out sofa and an old fridge which was lying on its side were there.


a In any house it was the kitchen that she always wanted to see first.

b She always wanted to see the kitchen first in any house.


a Hidden under a thick layer of dust and grease were the kitchen walls and units.

b The kitchen walls and units were hidden under a thick layer of grease and dust.


a She stepped into the old dining room, pushing open a creaking mahogany door.

b Pushing open a creaking mahogany door, she stepped into the old dining room.


a This was exactly the kind of thing they had been hoping to find.

b They had been hoping to find exactly this kind of thing.


a Ever since her childhood spent in an old farmhouse in Scotland she had loved it.

b It was something she had loved ever since her childhood spent in an old farmhouse in Scotland.

Choose the best word or phrase (a-n) from the box below to complete each sentence. Not all the options are needed.

a At first

b Furthermore

c Nevertheless

d Due to

e After that

f Consequently

g The Prince

h The Prince of Wales

i To know the right people.

j Knowing the right people.

k Cheques should be

l It would be nice if your cheque was

m creepy

n unnerving

  1. Proof of status must be included with each application. ……….. we require a signed and dated passport-sized photograph, which is non-returnable.
  2. Joseph never went to university. …………………, he considered himself to be well educated.
  3. The air traffic controllers have called a strike. ………….. all flights are cancelled until further notice.
  4. The tour of the Acropolis will take two hours. ……………. you will be free to go shopping.
  5. The Prince of Wales announced his decision to give up playing polo today. …………………. has sustained a number of injuries in recent years.
  6. Being in the right place at the right time. ………………. These are the ingredients of success in our society.
  7. Invoices should be paid by cheque. ………………. marked ‘payee only’.
  8. Many critics find the scene in the attic particularly……………… .

B       GRAMMAR EXPLANATION: Features of discourse

There are several principles and conventions which we follow in discourse (texts or conversations). This unit looks at how we organise information when we speak or write and the implications of this for word order, grammar and vocabulary. The unit goes on to describe other discourse features such as the use of linking words between sentences, stylistic devices and the choice of words appropriate to their context of use.


1A. The information principle

When speaking in English we usually sequence words so that we move from something known (already mentioned or obvious from the context) at the beginning of the sentence to something new at the end:

(in these examples, known information is underlined, new information is in bold)

 ‘Do you know where John is?’

He’s in the garden.’

 Notice how the pronoun He refers back to John, this kind of economic use of language is called ‘cohesion’.

When writing in English we usually organise the information in the same way that we do in speaking. Starting sentences with information which relates back to something already mentioned helps the text to ‘flow’ more smoothly and makes it easier for the reader to understand it:

Another striking feature of the capital’s squares and parks are the plane trees. The plane tree can reach 35 metres in height and has leaves similar to those of the maple. It has a vigorous and robust habit and is highly resistant to cold and air pollution. These features make it an ideal choice for city parks in northern Europe.

We do not usually put new information at the beginning.

1B. The end-weight principle

In English we prefer to put long and complex phrases at the end of a sentence. English prefers sentences to be ‘light’ at the beginning (before the main verb) and ‘heavy’ at the end. Long complex clauses also often contain new information, so this principle and the information principle reinforce each other:

A striking feature of the central areas of the capital are the elegant classical squares which were originally laid out by aristocratic developers in the eighteenth century.

Sentences with a heavy clause at the beginning can seem clumsy and be difficult to understand:

[The elegant classical squares which were originally laid out by aristocratic developers in the eighteenth century are a striking feature of the central areas of the capital. ] 

Note: But the information principle is more important in text than the end-weight principle, so we can put a heavy clause at the beginning of a sentence if it contains familiar information linking it to the preceding text:

London has many public parks and squares which date from previous centuries. The elegant classical squares which were originally laid out by aristocratic developers in the eighteenth century are a striking feature of the central areas of the capital.

1C. Focus

In English we can show which part of a sentence or clause contains the most important point or ‘focus’ by moving the important point to the beginning or end of the sentence – these are the two positions which appear most important to a reader or listener.

In this example Jim and nightclub are the focus – they seem the most important issues:

Jim invited Lucy to the nightclub

If we want to put the focus on an item that doesn’t naturally come at the beginning or end of the sentence (e.g. Lucy) we have to manipulate the grammar to bring the item to the front focus position. We call this ‘fronting’. For example, we can use cleft sentences:

It was Lucy that Jim invited to the nightclub.

Lucy was the girl that Jim invited to the nightclub.

Similarly, we can give focus to something by moving it into the end focus position:

The girl that Jim invited to the nightclub was Lucy.

1D. Contrast and emphasis

We sometimes need to break the principles of word order to create effects of emphasis and contrast. Because word order in English is usually fixed, we can emphasise something by moving it to an unfamiliar position. We often do this with adverbial expressions, objects and complements, and that and to infinitive phrases:

The facade of the house was blank and austere. [But it was ornate and luxurious inside] => But inside it was ornate and luxurious.

[I may be old], but I’m not stupid. => Old I may be. but I’m not stupid.

Priscilla invariably rejected impoverished suitors. [Her only ambition was to marry for money] => To marry for money was her only ambition.

1E. Manipulating grammar and vocabulary

In order to follow the ordering principles when we are writing we have to choose suitable vocabulary and grammar. As the subject usually comes at the beginning of a sentence in English the simplest way to organise a sentence is to choose a subject which links with the previous information:

Whenever possible, we pack all our furniture in flat packages [Transport becomes cheaper because less space is taken up by a flat pack than a bulky one.] => A flat pack takes up less space than a bulky one, which means that transport becomes cheaper.

We sometimes use a noun which summarises the previous information:

The rioters threw petrol bombs at the embassy. The situation was getting out of hand.

We can choose alternative verbs or use the passive so that the appropriate subject comes at the beginning:

Our neighbours got a good price for their car [The local garage bought it from them.]

=> They sold it to a local garage./It was bought by a local garage.

‘Guernica’ is a wonderful example of cubist art. [In 1937 Picasso painted it.]

=>  It was painted by Picasso in 1937. 

We can also use introductory it and participle and infinitive phrases to put the familiar information at the beginning and new information at the end:

Fleming’s behaviour was inexplicable. It was hard to believe that he had become this savage with a bare knife.

Steve went home. Walking towards his door, he noticed a piece of paper left on the doorstep.


2A. Linking expressions

We use various words and phrases at the beginning of a sentence to express a  relationship between what we are about to say and what we have just said. (We  also use words to link clauses within a sentence). The table below contains some common examples of sentence linkers:

types examples discourse examples
additive linkers

(giving extra information)

Furthermore 1

Similarly, 1 (= in

the same way),

In addition,

On top of this,

What’s more,

You can save yourself a full five per cent of

interest with our new credit plan.

Furthermore, we are offering no repayments

for a year to customers who sign up before

the end of the month.

adversative linkers

(introducing information which contrasts with what has been mentioned previously) 2

However, 1


(= despite this)

On the other hand,

Your counsel has made a convincing case in

Mitigation, Mr Belgrave. Nevertheless, we

feel that in a case of this gravity the only

appropriate option is a custodial sentence.

causal linkers

(introducing the result of previous information)

Consequently, 1

It follows from this, 1

For this reason,

As a result,


Your repayments are now three months in

arrears. Consequently, we have no option

but to withdraw credit facilities immediately

temporal linkers

(expressing a relationship of time or sequence with the previous information)


After that,

An hour later,


At last

The troops trudged for weeks through the

snowy wastes. Finally, as they were nearing

the point of exhaustion, they sow the faint

lights of the city on the horizon.

1 We usually use these linkers in more formal English.

2 These are often adverbs of contrast.

2B. Reference

A key feature of continuous text and of conversation is the use of reference words which tie different sentences together by making cross references backwards and forwards in the text. We generally do not repeat the same words:

Professor John Doherty gave the lecture this morning. [Professor John Doherty ‘s theme was endorphin production in mammals.]

We tend to avoid doing this because repetition is boring for the reader or listener and it is not considered stylish. A better alternative is partial repetition:

… Doherty’s theme was endorphin production in mammals.

We can often use a pronoun or replacement word which refers back to the earlier item

… His/The lecturers theme was endorphin production in mammals.

We can also use pronouns or other substitute words and in some cases we can omit the repeated information.

2C. Parallelism

Although we try to avoid repeating words when we are writing a text, a useful way of making a text cohesive is to use similar grammar in different sentences, for example the same tense or aspect, similar word order or repeating a particular grammatical form:

She is probably going to fail the exam. And she is probably going to blame her teacher.

Your world. To live and sleep in. To cook and eat in. To take a shower, watch TV or maybe do some work in.

Note: We avoid sudden changes in grammar as this often looks clumsy and it can make a written text difficult to understand:

[ I can’t wait to lie on the sand. Swimming in the sea is great. To sunbathe is something I would love to do as well.]

✓ I can’t wait to be lying on the sand, sunbathing and swimming in the sea.

If we want to create a dramatic effect or make a strong contrast, we can repeat an unusual grammatical pattern. But we usually only use this device in narrative and fiction because in less literary contexts it can seem inappropriate:

Rarely had I seen such a ramshackle boat. And never had I actually been expected to get on board one.

2D. Appropriate language

A key feature of the use of language which is appropriate to its context is the choice of vocabulary. Most English words are ‘neutral’ and we can use them in any situation. But some words are only appropriate, for example, in a formal situation and others only in an informal context. Compare these examples which say the same thing in different registers:

The show starts at nine o’clock. (neutral)

The performance commences at nine o’clock. (formal)

The show kicks off at nine. (informal)

Certain forms and grammatical patterns are more suitable for formal situations, e.g. passives, subjunctives, infinitive phrase subjects and non-defining relative clauses. There are other patterns which we usually use for more informal situations, e g. passives with get, sentences ending with prepositions, using verbs as nouns and it cleft sentences with when and where

Here is another set of examples which differ not only in choice of vocabulary but also in the choice of grammatical patterns:

I’m afraid I can’t come because I’m busy tonight. (neutral)

I regret that I am unable to attend due to a prior engagement. (formal)

Sorry I can’t make it but I’m a bit tied up tonight. (informal)

Note: In written English we usually do not mix formal and informal language in the same text unless we want to create a comic or ironic effect:

[The Minister was unable to attend the reception because he was a bit tied up]

✓ The Minister was unable to attend the reception due to a prior engagement.


Q 1.

In the following passages the underlined phrases or sentences (0-7) do not conform with text writing principles. The main problem is the order of information. Rewrite these sentences appropriately, changing the grammar as necessary. The exercise begins with an example (0).

The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit by the American space shuttle Discovery in April 1990. (0) The earth is orbited by it at an altitude of 610 kilometres. (1) The light front space is not affected by interference from the earth’s atmosphere at this height. As a result the Hubble telescope is at least ten times more accurate than telescopes on the ground and has a much greater range. (2) In our search for distant stars and planets this makes it the most useful tool.

The telescope is named after the most influential astronomer of the twentieth century. Edwin Hubble. Working at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena. (3) his close observation of the Andromeda galaxy was used by the American astronomer to develop the theory that the universe is expanding. (4) Directly based on his ideas is the Big Bang theory, now accepted as the most likely explanation of the creation, of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope has not had a smooth history. (5) Scientists at NASA discovered that the main mirror had become distorted and could not be used with any accuracy only two months after it went into orbit. Rather than abandon the project. NASA decided to find a way to resolve this problem. (6) COSTAR (corrective optics space telescope axial replacement) was the name of the solution. This was a device which contained ten smaller mirrors designed to compensate for the distortion in the telescope’s main mirror. It cost $360 million to develop the technology and more than 30 hours of spacewalks by astronauts to fix the device. (7) The Hubble Space Telescope is now working correctly and sending its astonishing data hack to earth,, the repairs were completed in January 1994.

0          It orbits the earth at an altitude of 610 kilometres.

Q 2.

Choose the best alternative, A or B. according to text ordering principles.

  1. The witness gave the police details of her assailant’s appearance. ……. circulated throughout the metropolitan district.

A The description was

B The details of her assailant’s appearance were

  1. Della Jones, one of our best-loved singers, is well known for her opera repertoire. ……

A Her greatest operatic roles have included Rosina in II Barbiere di Siviglia and the title role in La Cenerentola.

B Rosina in II Barbiere di Siviglia and the title role in La Cenerentola are included among her greatest operatic roles.

  1. One of the great comic stars of the 1960s was Walter Matthau. ……

A Particularly noteworthy was Jack Lemmon’s film work with him.

B His film work with Jack Lemmon being particularly noteworthy.

  1. If you’re looking for a quiet holiday, forget about Ibiza. ……

A It may be sun-drenched and beautiful but it isn’t peaceful!

B Sun-drenched and beautiful it may be peaceful it isn’t!

  1. Elizabeth inherited a kingdom torn by religious strife. ……

A Her first action was to try and pacify the rival fanatics.

B Pacifying the rival fanatics was her first action.

  1. Potential residents will find everything they need in the Dinglewood rest home in Harwich. …..

A Among its features are twenty-four hour nursing care and luxurious private rooms.

B Luxurious private rooms and twenty-four hour nursing care are among its features.

  1. But I had nothing to do with it, Your Honour. ……

A My twin brother was the one the police saw outside the warehouse.

B The police saw my twin brother outside the warehouse.

  1. Built in 1078 by Bishop Cundulf for William the Conqueror, the Tower of London is one of the oldest landmarks in the city. ……

A Today its main claim to fame is the recently built Jewel House containing the fabulous crown jewels of Great Britain.

B The recently built Jewel House containing the fabulous crown jewels of Great Britain is its main claim to fame today.

  1. Birch trees can reach 30 metres in height and have a very vigorous growth pattern. …

A Damage can be caused to drains and house walls if they are too close to the particularly fast-growing roots.

B The roots are particularly fast-growing and can cause damage if they are close to drains and house walls.

  1. My rather unconventional sister turned up in the middle of the night without any warning. … soon sent our peaceful little household into total turmoil.

A My sister arriving unexpectedly in the night

B Her sudden arrival

Q 3.

There is one mistake in each extract, 1-10. Some mistakes are incorrect linking words, some are incorrect use of vocabulary or grammar, and some are due to unnecessary repetition. Find each mistake and correct it.

  1. Dave – I’m off to Mum’s, for the weekend. Don’t forget to activate the burglar alarm if you go out! See you Monday. Love Jane.
  2. London is a vast sprawling metropolis containing millions of people over an area of several thousand square kilometres, much of which consists of endlessly monotonous suburbs. Consequently, many of the individual districts seem to have retained their own distinct and almost village-like identities.
  3. Swimming in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. Dining on seafood in the evening and to fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves at night. There’s nowhere like Andalucia. Call now for our brochure.
  4. Ralph felt the icy wind on his back and wrapped his scarf more tightly around his neck. It was surprising how chilly the icy wind could be once one got a few miles out to sea.
  5. Local residents are ready to take the matter to the police and the authorities. Nevertheless, they are going to write to their member of parliament to insist on a public inquiry into the affair.
  6. To make a recording first insert a blank tape into the machine. Then select the channel you wish to record and set the counter to zero. You ought to press the red ‘record’ button and at the same time press the ‘play’ button.
  7. 8.00 Tonight’s episode of Changing Rooms features a brave married couple from Darlington. The brave married couple allow their rather ham-fisted neighbours to redecorate their recently rebuilt conservatory in what the programme makers describe as ‘tropical’ style!
  8. Policyholders wishing to make a claim under Section 3 should be prepared to provide receipts of purchase for all items. Items for which receipts cannot be provided will not be eligible for reinstatement except in really special circumstances and at the absolute discretion of the insurers.
  9. To have made one great album is easy. To have made two is not so hard. But having made three is a rare feat indeed in today’s easy-come, easy-go music business. Yes, Radiohead have pulled off the hat trick!
  10. We moved into the new house today. Everything went pretty smoothly. The furniture van arrived bang on the dot of 10 and we spent an exhausting three hours unloading. At first, at one o’clock we were able to sit down on your own sofa in our own new living room.!

Q 4.

Read the text about Paul Robeson and match the underlined phrases and sentences (1-8) with the features (A-H). (Note that underlined items 1-4 match text features A-D, and underlined items 5-8 match features E-H.) Write the numbers in the boxes.


A Putting familiar information at the beginning by using a noun.

B Giving extra focus to information by putting it at the front of the sentence.

C Repeating a grammatical structure to give extra emphasis (parallelism).

D Using a linking word to make a contrast with information in the previous sentence.

E Familiar information at the beginning, new information at the end (the information principle).

F Using a substitute word to avoid repetition.

G Putting familiar information at the beginning by using the passive.

H Long and complex phrases at the end (the end-weight principle).

Paul Robeson was the first African American to gain international success in the ‘white’ world of Hollywood movies. He was born in 1898, the son of a Methodist minister and a runaway slave. (1) Highly intelligent, he won a scholarship to Columbia University where he qualified as a lawyer. (2) But there were few opportunities for black lawyers in the New York of the nineteen twenties and Robeson decided to pursue a career on the stage. He soon became one of the biggest

stars on Broadway, taking the leading role in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones in 1924. (3) Applauded for his acting ability and acclaimed for his remarkable physical presence on stage. Robeson went on to show the world his greatest talent, his superb deep bass singing voice, by taking the role of Joe in Jerome Kern’s hit musical Show Boat in 1927. After a successful run in this musical he changed direction again by tackling Shakespeare, achieving rave reviews for his portrayal of Othello.

(4) Success on Broadway inevitably led to Hollywood and Robeson made his screen debut in the film version of The Emperor Jones in 1933. Word of his abilities soon spread outside the United States and (5) in 1935 the actor moved to England, where he starred in Sanders of the River and King Solomon’s Mines.

Back in America Robeson starred in Show Boat, singing his famous song Ol’ Man River. (6) A recording and singing career followed with Robeson popularising traditional negro spirituals, a form of religious folk song developed by black slaves in the American South. Robeson became increasingly involved in politics and in the nineteen fifties made a visit to the Soviet Union. It was an era of strong anti-communist feelings, in America and when Robeson returned home his passport was cancelled and he was forced to stay in the United States for the next six years. (7) He was blacklisted by Hollywood and was unable to find work. (8) Robeson left the States in 1958 and began a new career as a concert performer in Europe. But he became seriously ill in the sixties and returned to New York. He died in Harlem in 1976.

Q 5.

Use the following notes to prepare a short article for a reference book about the samurai. Write one sentence only for each numbered set of notes, using connecting words and phrases as appropriate. You may add words and change the form of the words given in the notes but do not add any extra information. The first point has been expanded for you as an example (0).

The samurai – Warriors of Japan

       0          s. = warrior class – founded by first ‘shogun’ (Military ruler) Yoritomo – 1180

  1. worked for shogun (wartime); employed by large landowners, (‘ daimyo’ ) in peace
  2. many rights & privileges: right to carry swords/ ride horses, etc.
  3. exchange for rights: owed absolute loyalty , their daimyo (even extent expected – commit suicide when d. died)
  4. this tradition – part of ‘bushido’ (= ‘The Way of the Warrior’): strict code of honour – stressed importance; self-discipline & bravery
  5. bushido based on peaceful beliefs of Zen Buddhism; despite this – helped s. become most ruthless, feared & brutal warriors in Asia
  6. s. reached peak importance & influence – civil wars (16th century) – fought for rival wariords
  1. peaceful years (after 1603) s. gradually lost military importance & many became administrators (not soldiers)
  2. 1867 last shogun (Tokugawa Keiki) resigned; Japan began modernise military forces; conscription & western army structure (introduced 1972)
  3. s. no longer needed/ wanted = result; remaining s. in Satsuma decide mount rebellion against government
  4. Satsuma rebellion = disaster for s. – finally defeated by imperial Army 1877


1          b

2          a

3          a

4          b

5          b

6          a

7          b

8          b

9          c

10        f

11        e

12        g

13        j

14        k

15        n



Q 1.

  1. At this height, the light from space is not affected by interference from the earth’s atmosphere.
  2. This makes it the most useful tool in our search for distant stars and planets.
  3. the American astronomer used his close observation of the Andromeda Galaxy to develop the theory that the universe is expanding.
  4. The Big Bang theory, now accepted as the most likely explanation of the creation of the universe, is directly based on his ideas.
  5. Only two months after it went into orbit scientists at NASA discovered that the main mirror had become distorted and could not be used with any accuracy.
  6. The solution was named COSTAR (corrective optics space telescope axial replacement).
  7. The repairs were completed in January 1994 and the Hubble Space Telescope is now working correctly and sending its astonishing data back to earth.

Q 2.

1 A      2 A     3 B      4 B      5 A

6 A      7 A      8 A      9 B      10 B

Q 3.

1 activate => turn on

2 Consequently => Nevertheless/However/ Nonetheless, etc.

3 to-fall asleep => falling asleep

4 the icy wind => the wind/it

5 Nevertheless => Furthermore/ In addition, etc.

6 You ought to press => Press

7 The brave married couple => The couple/ They

8 really special => exceptional

9 having made three => to have made three

10 At-first => Finally/ At last, etc.

Q 4.

A 4      B 1     C 3      D 2      E 8       F 5       G 7      H 6

Q 5.

  1. Although they worked for the shogun in wartime, they were employed by the large landowners, the daimyo, in times of peace.
  2. They had many rights and privileges including the right to carry swords and ride horses.
  3. In exchange for these rights they owed absolute loyalty to their daimyo, even to the extent that they were expected to commit suicide when their daimyo died.
  4. This tradition was part of ‘bushido’ or ‘The Way of the Warrior’: a strict code of honour which stressed the importance of self- discipline and bravery.
  5. Despite the fact that bushido was based on the peaceful beliefs of Zen Buddhism, it helped the samurai to become the most ruthless, feared and brutal warriors in Asia.
  6. The samurai reached their peak of importance and influence in the civil wars of the sixteenth century, when they fought for rival warlords.
  7. In the peaceful years after 1603, the samurai gradually lost their military importance, and many became administrators rather than soldiers.
  8. In 1867, the last shogun Tokugawa Keiki resigned and Japan began to modernise its military forces with the introduction of conscription and a western army structure in 1872.
  9. As a result the samurai were no longer needed or wanted and the remaining samurai in Satsuma decided to mount a rebellion against the government.
  10. The Satsuma rebellion was a disaster for the samurai, who were finally defeated by the imperial Army in 1877.

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