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Updated Aug. 17, 2009

 

Complex Sentences

 

Complex sentences are sentences that have several parts, each with a verb, and these parts are joined by ‘joining words’ (连词).  For example, here are two simple sentences: “I know a man. He has five children.” If you join these two sentences by using the relative pronoun (联系代名词) who’, it now becomes a complex sentence: I know a man who has five children.” (By the way, ‘who’ is not pronounced with extra word stress here. You only stress this word when it means ?’, which is not the case here.)

 

It is important to show the examiner that you can use a variety of words to join sentence parts in order to make longer, more complex sentences. Examiners are looking at this and if you don’t show it well enough, you won’t get a 6 (or above) for grammar. This is a strict rule that the examiners must follow, even if other aspects of your grammar are very good.

 

Below are some suggestions about making complex sentences:

  1. Don’t unnecessarily repeat the same noun use pronouns such as he, she it, we, they, the one, the ones and 联系代名词.

  1. Show that you can use 联系代名词 that, which, who, whom, where, when.

  1. Show that you can use: if, although (= though), even though, as well (as), at the moment, even, while, whereas, either, neither (+ nor), unless, rather than, instead of, as soon as, when, once, after, while, meanwhile, besides, in spite of, despite, yet, still, provided (providing) that, except, in order to, in case, depending on, because, but, and, as, or,  for example,  for instance, like, such as, by …

There are probably more linking words that I have forgotten but this is a good list to study.

How can you learn to use these words correctly? Firstly, don’t guess at the meaning or usage of these words and phrases – use a good dictionary that has both English and Chinese to see the exact meaning and usage. For example, the ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary’ is a good one.

After you read the Chinese meaning and see the example sentence in the dictionary, write about 5 similar examples yourself and then speak these sentences (after all, you are studying for the Speaking test, not just the Writing test).
  1. The following adverbs are also used to link ideas within a sentence: mainly, chiefly especially, particularly , predominantly, primarily, specially , especially, specifically, mostly. These adverbs can be found, HERE, in Table B3 but not all the words in Table B3 are classified as linking words.
  1. In English, the word ‘although’ is not followed by the word ‘but’. For example, don’t say, “Although he’s not very tall, but he’s a good basketball player.” The correct sentence is, “Although he’s not very tall, he’s a good basketball player.”

  1. When you want to say, ‘ use ‘because’ not, ‘for’, or ‘as’. These two words sound too formal in everyday spoken English. For example, don’t say, “I’m sitting for the IELTS exam as I want to study in Britain.” It’s more natural to say, “I’m sitting for the IELTS exam because I want to study in Britain.”

The word ‘since’ can be used instead of the word, ‘because’, especially at the beginning of a sentence. For example: “Since I’m just a student, I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat.” But if you use ‘since’ in the middle of a sentence, it also sounds too formal, although not as formal as ‘for’, or ‘as’.

Notice that, in Chinese you say 。。。所以” but in English, we don't say the 所以. For example: Because I’m just a student, so I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat” is not correct English. The correct sentence is: “Because I’m just a student, I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat.” ( But that sentence is usually much better if it is written or spoken this way: “I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat because I’m just a student.”)

In addition to not saying so”, there is another important point to remember about this type of sentence. Although it is possible in English to begin sentences with “because”, most English speakers don't do it very often, certainly not as often as Chinese people speaking English. Instead, most English speakers would re-phrase the sentence above to: “I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat because I'm just a student.” On the other hand, if you said, “Because I’m just a student, I don’t have enough money to rent my own flat” in Part 2 or in an extended answer in Part 3, it would not sound wrong. The problem arises when the examiner asks you a question such as, “Do you rent your own flat?” It would be unsuitable to answer by beginning with the “Because” phrase because that answer would not be a direct answer and English speakers do not speak that way. Instead, you should say: “No, I don't because I'm just a student so I don't have enough money to rent my own flat.”

Of course, English speakers do often begin sentences with “Because” in answer to a “Why....?” question and if you speak that way to begin an answer once or twice in the test it will help your speech sound natural. But I suggest you don't begin many answers to a “Why ....?” question that way because, by speaking that way, you might be losing the opportunity to impress the examiner with better English. The best example of this is the answer to the question, “Why did you choose to study that subject?” If you begin this way: “I chose that because ...” you will impress the examiner by using the past tense and secondly, you will impress the examiner with your knowledge of the word, “chose”, which is the irregular past form of “choose” and which is not well known or not often used by candidates below Band 6.

  1. Notes on the use of the relative pronouns ‘that’, ‘which’ and ‘who’

(This grammar, written as Item 7, is quite complex! Don't spend too much time studying this if it is too difficult for you. Just try to learn a few of the points mentioned here.)

The group of words that follows the words, ‘that’, ‘which’ or ‘who’ is called a “relative clause”.

There are two types of relative clauses, Defining Relative Clauses and Non-Defining Relative Clauses.

7.1  Defining relative clauses explain which person or thing you are talking about. For example, if you say, “I spoke to the man” it might be unclear who you mean but if you say, “I spoke to the man who lives upstairs” then you have defined which man. 

When defining a thing, we can use either that’ or which’. For example, “I’ve finished reading the book that you gave me” = “I’ve finished reading the book which you gave me”. (American English usually only uses that’ in this situation but British English allows for either that’ or whichto be used here.)

When writing defining relative clauses, the relative pronoun is never preceded by a comma.          

          Defining relative clauses can be further divided into two types: 

                Type 1

Relative pronouns representing the object (宾语) of their clause. For example, “I’ve finished reading the book that you gave me” (“that you gave me” means, “you gave it to me”).

The relative clause is, “you gave me”, the subject of the verb is “you” and the relative pronoun is “that”, representing the object, “it”.

When the relative pronoun represents an object, it can be omitted, especially in informal language such as everyday speech. For example, the sentence above can be spoken as, “I’ve finished reading the book you gave me”. 

                Type 2

Relative pronouns representing the subject (主语) of their clause. For example, “I spoke to the man who lives upstairs” (“who lives” means, “he lives”). 

When the relative pronoun is the subject, it cannot be omitted.

If the sentence above was changed to this: “I spoke to the man who I helped last year” then is becomes a Type 1.  You can see this because, “Who I helped” means, “I helped him” so “who” now is an object and the sentence could be spoken as, “I spoke to the man I helped last year.”  

 

7.2  Non-Defining relative clauses give extra information which is not necessary to say in order to define who or what you are talking about. For example, “I saw Mr. Wang, who looked a little tired.” 

In non-defining clauses, just as in defining clauses, the relative pronoun can be either a subject or an object. In both cases, you cannot omit the relative pronoun.

Since the relative pronoun is never omitted in a non-defining clause, it is not necessary to analyse examples of the relative pronoun to see if it represents the object or the subject of the relative clause. Nevertheless, some examples are shown below.

Examples of Relative Pronoun as Subject of the Clause:

“I saw Mr. Wang, who looked a little tired.” Here, “who looked a little tired” means, “he looked a little tired.”

“She bought a new car, which was quite expensive.” Here, “which was quite expensive” means, “it was quite expensive”.

Examples of Relative Pronoun as Object of the Clause

“I gave my old computer to my neighbour, who I have known all my life.” Here, “who I have known all my life” means, “I have known him all my life.”

“He's very proud of his doctorate (= PhD), which he put on his office wall, for everyone to see.” Here, “which he put on his office wall” means, “he put it on his office wall”.

When giving extra information about a thing, i.e., in a non-defining clause, you can only use the word, ‘which’. For example, “I read your essay, which was very interesting.” You cannot replace ‘which’ in that sentence with the word, ‘that’. 

When writing non-defining relative clauses, the relative pronoun must have a comma before it.  

 

  1. Try to use, ‘which’ quite a lot in the Speaking test (and the Writing test). This word is one of the most common of the linking words and by using it often, you will be adding lots of extra information, which is an important part of good communication. Remember, the Speaking test is a test of communication. If the examiner never (or rarely) hears you use that word, he or she will have a strong impression that you are not a 6 (or above) for grammar and probably not a 6 or above for Speaking, overall. But if you do use it a lot, the impression that the examiner gets is that you are at least a 6, although just using that word a lot is no guarantee that you will get a 6 or more!

Here is an example of how to use, ‘which’. (You should also try to find exercises on this topic in grammar books.) “This is my electronic dictionary. I find it very useful.” --> “This is my electronic dictionary, which I find very useful.” 

We do not say, “This is my electronic dictionary, which I find it very useful.” The word ‘which’ already represents ‘my electronic dictionary’ so we don't need to use a second pronoun. 

  1. The word, and’ is, of course, very often used but it is rather simple and you won't really score many points by simply using this word a lot. However, some candidates do use it a lot, instead of just saying many short, simple sentences and they do this because they have not practiced a larger range of linking words. Doing this is certainly better than habitually making many short sentences and it does give an impression that you are making complex sentences. Not only that, it does help you to speak more fluently. But to really impress the examiner, you need to show a range of linking words and use them frequently.
  1. Examiners sometimes ask you to name some different types of something, such as the different types of films that people watch. A similar question is to ask you to name some examples of something, such as, Can you think of any examples of leisure activities that people do in a place that has a lot of water?” These questions are basically testing your vocabulary but especially if the question is in Part 3, you should also consider these questions to be ‘invitations to speak rather broadly’, not just a request for a list of words. But many candidates just speak a list of words or names of different types of something, without adding any extra comments. That kind of answer, although satisfying the vocabulary requirements of the question, does not score very highly in the grammar or coherence requirements basically, that kind of answer is a Band 5.0 or 5.5 level of English. You should try to add comments, i.e., extra information, not just speak a list of words. 

Probably the most common example of this question is this: What subjects do you (or, did you) study in high school?” Most candidates just say, “I studied Maths, Physics, Chemistry, History, English and Chinese.” To speak just a list of words does not require a very high level of English and is only worth Band 5.0 or 5.5. Not only that, it's rather boring to listen to. Here's an example of a better answer that is a Band 6.0, 6.5 (or 7.0) level: 

Well, I studied Maths, which was my favourite subject because I always got a high score for in my maths exams, Physics, Chemistry, History, which I found a little boring because I don't enjoy just memorizing a lot of dates, English and, of course, Chinese, which is a compulsory subject for all students in China.” 

A candidate who knows how to show the intonation used when speaking a list would score the highest for this answer. As you can see, you should use which’ a few times in such an answer but to use ‘which’ after saying every item in the list is a little unnatural and repetitious. It's unnatural because the examiner asked, "What subjects did you study in school?", not, "Tell me about the subjects you studied in school". The question, "What subjects did you study in school?" is asking you to list the subjects, not give extra information about them. But when giving such a list in a conversational situation, it is natural to add a little information about one or two of the examples in the list.

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Some Exercises on Complex Sentences

  1. Read the simple sentences.
  2. Then read the complex sentence(s) and try to guess what words go in the blank spaces.
  3. Click on 'Answer' to see if you are correct.
  4. It is possible to simply use the word, 'and' in many of the blank spaces but you should try to use better words than that, although using 'and' is better than nothing.

 

“I need to learn English. English is very important. English will help me get a good job. I want to work in international trade. I'm studying international trade right now.”

“I need to learn English  _________ is very important  __________ it’ll help me get a good job in international trade________ I'm studying right now.”

Answer

 

 “I work in a software company. I’m a computer programmer. My work is quite challenging. Our clients usually want us to write programs in a short period of time.”

“I work in a software company ______ a computer programmer   ______ is quite a challenging job ______________ our clients usually want us to write programs in a short period of time.”

Answer

 

 “I like watching films. Watching films is my favourite pastime. I like comedy films. I don’t like violent films. I don’t like horror films.”

“Watching films, ___________ comedy, is my favourite pastime  __________ I don’t like films with a lot of violence ____ horror films.”

Answer

 

 “I don’t ride my bicycle very often. I take the bus to university. It’s faster. I do use my bicycle on the weekends. At that time I have no classes.”

“I don’t ride my bicycle very often  ____________ it’s faster to take the bus to university  _____ I do use it on the weekends  ________ I have no classes.”

Answer 

 

 “Yes, Chinese people do like growing flowers. Many people live in apartments in cities. It’s not easy to grow flowers in an apartment. Some people have a balcony. People sometimes grow flowers on their balcony. Retired people sometimes grow flowers on their balcony.”

“Yes, Chinese people do like growing flowers ________  _________ many people live in apartments in cities, it’s not easy to grow flowers, ____________ people ________ have a balcony, ____________ retired people, sometimes grow flowers on their balcony.”

Answer

 

Question: “Would you say the place where you live is good for families with children?

Answer: “Well, not really, no, because  _______________ the apartments are all modern and clean, there are very few places for children to play outside.”

Answer

 

 “I’m interested in sport. There are many other things that I’m interested in. I’m interested in computers and music.”

I’m interested in sport _________, ______________, there are many other things that I’m interested in, __________ computers and music.

Answer

 

 Three years ago, my father gave me some good advice. This advice was very useful. It saved me from making a very unsuitable career choice.

Three years ago, my father gave me some good advice  __________ was very useful _____________  it saved me from making a very unsuitable career choice.

Answer

 

 When I was in Second Year of high school, I had a maths teacher. His name was Mr. Wang. He really changed my life. He inspired me to love mathematics.

When I was in Second Year of high school, I had a maths teacher named Mr. Wang  ______ really changed my life ______  inspiring me to love mathematics.

Answer

     

 To tell you the truth, I don't play much sport. I don't walk much. I drive my car everywhere. I drive my car to my office. My office is near my home. I sometimes play table tennis. I'm quite good at table tennis. I know more exercise would give me more energy. I just don't seem to find the time for exercise. I'm too busy with my work.

To tell you the truth, I don't play much sport _____ do I walk much _________ I drive my car everywhere, ______ to my office, ________ is near my home __________ I sometimes play table tennis, _________ I'm quite good at. I know I'd have more energy _____ I did more exercise ______ I just don't seem to find the time for exercise__________ I'm too busy with my work.

Answer