Using different verb patterns to improve Grammatical Range in IELTS Speaking

In this lesson

This lesson shows you how to use and practise verb patterns to increase your chances to achieve a higher score in Grammatical Range in IELTS Speaking.

One way to get a higher score for grammatical range in IELTS Speaking is to use a variety of grammatical structures accurately. Verb patterns are considered grammatical structures and in this lesson you’re going to learn what they are, how they are used and how to learn and practise them to increase your chances of achieving a better score.  

What are verb patterns?

Verb patterns are often confused with verb tenses such as the present perfect, past continuous and past simple. But verb patterns and verb tenses are two different things.

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Let’s read the definition of verb patterns taken from the online Cambridge Dictionary:

Verb patterns refer to what follows a verb. For example, some verbs can stand alone, (They laughed). Others have to be followed by an object (They loved it). Other verbs are followed by objects + prepositions (Put it on the table), or verbs in other forms (I hate waiting, I prefer to walk), or by a clause (They told us to wait. He told us (that) we were wrong. She agreed to come. We agreed (that) it was better).

So, as you can see, verb patterns consist of a verb plus other grammatical elements. Now that we know what they are, let’s have a look at how we could use a variety of these in the Speaking test.

Verb patterns in action

These are some questions on a topic you may be asked to talk about in IELTS Speaking Part 1 taken from our IELTS Authentic Practice tests series.

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Compare the following two answers to the second question. They both express similar ideas but one includes a greater variety of verb patterns. Can you guess which one?


Do you ever use a microwave to cook food quickly?

Answer A

No, I don’t, but I used to do it when I was living alone. My brother bought one for me because he thought it was a very useful appliance that I needed to have, so he got me one for Christmas, which I would always use. Now, though, I live with my partner, who loves cooking delicious fresh food, so a microwave is no longer necessary in my kitchen.

Answer B

No, but I used one when I was living alone. My brother bought a microwave for me because he thought that I needed it. It was his Christmas present for me and I always used it. Now, though, I live with my partner, who cooks delicious fresh food so I don’t need a microwave now.

Both answers are grammatically correct. They both communicate a similar message but Answer A would get a higher score in grammatical range and here is why:

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Answer A includes eleven different verb patterns, while Answer B only six. Obviously, it’s not possible to think about all these grammatical structures while you’re speaking, and you shouldn’t do this otherwise you would lose marks for fluency. What you should do, however, is expand your grammatical range by learning verb patterns and practising them before the test.

How can you do this? Read on.

How to learn verb patterns

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Top Tip!

It’s very easy to find a long list of verb patterns online but the best way to learn them is to notice them in context.

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You might already know that exposing yourself to English is vital when preparing for IELTS, so after reading a text in English (a news article, a book, etc.), you could reread short sections of it with your verb pattern radar on and see if you can find some. You can then underline these, record them in your notebook, review and use them in speaking and writing.

How to practise verb patterns in speaking

Here’s a simple exercise to practise verb patterns:

  • Answer a question from an official IELTS Speaking test
  • Record your answer
  • Listen back to how you answered the question and write down exactly what you said. What verb patterns did you use? What verb patterns could you have used but didn’t?
  • Repeat the process trying to include a greater variety of verb patterns.

You could even do this with a study buddy. Practising with another person might make your IELTS preparation more fun! I hope you found this mini lesson useful and good luck with your Speaking test!

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