Multi-word Units image banner

Multi-Word Units

Multi-word units are basically just ‘chunks of language’. Why do you need to learn them?
Remember the level 7 description for ‘lexical resource’:
• uses a sufficient range of vocabulary to allow some flexibility and precision.
• uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation.
 
To meet these two requirements it is necessary for your lexical knowledge to extend beyond knowing single words. This article will present the main types of multi-word unit. In the hope that it will make it easier for you to recognize them. You also need to remember that learning a vocabulary item, whether a single word or phrase requires you to know how to use that item. And not just its translation equivalent.

Compounds

 
These are two or more words clearly functioning as a single word. Often nouns but as noted in the article on adjectives, compound adjectives are also quite common.  
 
Examples: alarm clock      credit card      first aid      science fiction      four-star      brand-new      north-west

 

Phrasal verbs

 
Phrasal verbs are a combination of a common verb plus preposition or particle. They are often like idioms as their meaning cannot always be guessed from their component parts. They are used more in speaking and they often have a one-word equivalent.
 
Which would be the preferred option in more formal writing, such as academic essay writing.   Learn these as you encounter them. I don’t think it is so productive to spend time learning lists of phrasal verbs. Though phrasal verbs are a common feature there are very few which are frequently used.  
 
Examples: make up     get away with      set off      give up      look after

Fixed Expressions

English contains lots of fixed expressions of various length. To take just one area, the following are commonly used in reference to quantity or degree. 
 
Examples: a wide range of  / to a certain extent / a great deal of

Semi-fixed expressions

These are expressions which have one or more variable slots.

Examples: as far as …. ( I know, I can tell, x is concerned) / ….. as well as …. / not only …. but also …..)

Idioms

 

Idioms are fixed expressions whose meaning cannot be guessed from the component words. As with phrasal verbs, it is not the best use of study time to learn lists of these. When you hear or read a new idiom decide for yourself if you think it is worth remembering, and if so make a note of it. They are mainly used in informal speech so unless you’re sure. It is probably best to avoid using them. Though it could be acceptable in task 1 in the general exam. If it is an informal letter, such as writing to a friend for some reason.   Examples: get the wrong end of the stick, play it by ear, mind your p’s and q’s.

Collocations

 

These are frequently occurring combinations of words. Do take this area of language learning seriously as an ability to use collocations. It is explicitly referred to in the level descriptor ( see above). Nouns, adjective and verbs can all form collocations.
 
Examples: important contribution ( adjective + noun); meet expectations ( verb + noun), totally unacceptable (adverb + adjective)

Sentence headers

 

These are a kind of fixed expressions but they are treated as a separate class. They share the function of introducing a sentence, helping to ‘signpost’ for the reader the content of the sentence.  
 
Examples: It seems to me that ….. , Sorry to interrupt but …., Would it be possible to …?

Exercises

Task 1 – General

In the following excerpts from letters written for task 1 of the general exam, use the appropriate multi-word expressions from the box below to put into the gaps.

Extract 1: Regarding the food, I went to various restaurants and all served mouth-watering dishes but ….1…… that the most …..2…….. I ate there was in a friend’s house.

Extract 2: ……..3…….. if you could contact me…..4………, particularly since I need the proposals for a presentation this week. If you could send the bag to me by courier service…….5………. I have arranged to pay for the service.   Extract 3: I am writing to ……….6………..with my room-mate. .,…7……. we share one room. Unfortunately because of my room-mate’s …..8……., I feel it is …..9……. for me to continue with the present arrangement.

no longer possible as soon as possible As you know
I would appreciate it  I must admit unreasonable behaviour
delicious food express my dissatisfaction I would be most grateful.

 

Task 2 – Academic

In the following excerpts from the task 1 of the academic exam, use the appropriate multi-word expressions from the box below to put in to the gaps.

Extract 1: Although Washington’s increase in population between 1940 and 1970 was large, its increase in …..1………. was even sharper, rising ….2…… 125,000 in 1970 ….2….. 240,000 in 2000.

Extract 2: The table compares four countries …….3……….the number of people who watch four different genres of film at the cinema: Action, Romance, Comedy and Horror. In India and Japan only 2-2.5 million people watch horror films but they are more popular in New Zealand and Ireland. ….4……., romance films are very popular in India with 7.5 million viewers

Extract 3: The two pie charts compare the percentages of online sales across different retail sectors in Canada in the years 2005 and 2010. For three of the sectors, …5……. that over this time frame there was ….6…….in their proportion of online transactions.

from about … to more than…. On the other hand significant change
It is evident the following thirty years in terms of

To repeat what was written at the beginning, showing an ability to use multi-word units is necessary if you are to get a level 7 or above for lexical resource. When reading, get into the habit of consciously looking for examples of multi-word phrases. You will be surprised how many there are.

 

FREE 3 part IELTS writing video course

If you are serious about taking your IELTS writing to the next level, sign up for your FREE 3 part IELTS writing video course that takes you through both task 1 and task 2. The video lessons are led by our highly experienced UK native IELTS teacher, Katherine. We also provide you with exercises to test your understanding!

Sign up your FREE IELTS writing video course by clicking here: https://swoosh-english.thinkific.com/courses/ielts-writing-video-course

Don’t forget to COMMENT and SHARE with friends and classmates who are preparing for the IELTS exam also.

Answers to Exercises

Task 1 – General

In the following excerpts from letters written for task 1 of the general exam, house the appropriate multi-word expressions from the box below to put in to the gaps.

Extract 1: Regarding the food I went to various restaurants and all served mouth-watering dishes but I must admit that the most delicious food I ate there was in a friend’s house.

 

Extract 2: I would appreciate it if you could contact me as soon as possible, particularly since I need the proposals for a presentation this week. If you could send the bag to me by courier service, I would be most grateful. I have arranged to pay for the service.

Extract 3: I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with my room-mate. As your know we share one room, I cannot study in the room at all any more if I still stay there. Unfortunately because of my room-mate’s unreasonable behaviour, I feel it is no longer possible for me to continue with the present arrangement.

 

Task 2 – Academic

 

Extract 1: Although Washington’s increase in population between 1940 and 1970 was large, its increase in the following thirty years was even sharper, rising from about 125,000 in 1970 to more than 240,000 in 2000.

Extract 2: The table compares four countries in terms of the number of people who watch four different genres of film at the cinema: Action, Romance, Comedy and Horror.

In India and Japan only 2-2.5 million people watch horror films but they are more popular in New Zealand and Ireland. On the other hand, romance films are very popular in India with 7.5 million viewers.

Extract 3: The two pie charts compare the percentages of online sales across different retail sectors in Canada in the years 2005 and 2010. For three of the sectors, it is evident that over this time frame there was significant change in their proportion of online transactions.

Leave a comment

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.

Join our FREE 4 Part OET Video Series WATCH NOW!
JOIN our OET Intensive Course with 3 EXTRA BONUSES today! LEARN MORE