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How do referents work?

A lesson avoiding repetition

by | Aug 8, 2019 | Speaking, Writing

“I like my cat because the cat is so cute. But the cat is very messy, and I keep putting away the cat’s toys. Well, sometimes, I even regret buying the cat.” Don’t you feel that there is something odd about the cat story?! It doesn’t really sound natural, does it?

Now, let’s compare it with this version:

“I like my cat because it is so cute. But it is very messy, and I keep putting away its toys. Well, sometimes, I even regret buying this pet.”

[Note: In the example above, the words in bold type are the referents.]

In IELTS writing or speaking, how you refer back to things you have just written or said is an important way of creating a natural flow to your language. Using referents means you can avoid repetition and make your writing more interesting and easier to read and understand.

IELTS examiners call it cohesion and it affects your score dramatically, especially in IELTS writing task two.

Some useful referents you can use

 Personal Pronouns  I, you, he, she, etc.
 Demonstrative Pronouns  this, that, these and those
 Possessive Adjectives  my, your, his, her, its, their, our, one’s
 The Definite Article  the


Take this quiz now

(See answers below)

Find out what word(s) each referent goes back to:

  1. What’s the happiest time in people’s lives: youth or old age; school, career or retirement? All of these have been suggested, but teenage years and adulthood both have many supporters.
  2. Throughout the century, the largest quantity of water was used for agricultural purposes, and thisincreased dramatically from about 500 km3 to around 3000 km3 in the year 2000.
  3. These materials pass through a crusher that produces a powder. Then this powder goes into a mixer. After this, the product passes to a rotating heater which works with heat.
  4. The charts compare the sources of electricity in Australia and France in the years 1980 and 2000. Between these years, electricity production almost doubled, rising from 100 units to 170 in Australia, and from 90 to 180 units in France.
  5. The consumption of chicken, on the other hand, showed an upward trend, overtaking that of lamb in 1980 and that of beef in 1989.
  6. I have an older brother. He is not married and lives with the family.
  7. Earthquakes and floods hit many regions of my country, and such natural disasters take the lives of our people which is a waste of life, I believe.
  8. Yes, I have. Last month, I read a novel called “Of Mice and Men” written by John Steinbeck. The book tells the story of…
  9. I used to have a dog but couldn’t stand its barking, so we gave it away!
  10. In mega cities, everybody is struggling with air pollution, and I believe one’s health is more important that the luxury of living an urban life.






  1. these => youth or old age; school, career or retirement … (Cambridge IELTS 9 Test B Writing Task 2)
  2. this => quantity … (Cambridge IELTS 6 Test 1 Writing task 1)
  3. this powder => a powder … this => [the wole stage] (Cambridge IELTS 8 Test 3 Writing task 1)
  4. these years => 1980 and 2000 … (Cambridge IELTS 7 Test 4 Writing task 1)
  5. that => consumption … (Cambridge IELTS 7 Test 2 Writing task 1)
  6. He => brother … (IELTS speaking answer)
  7. such natural disasters  => Earthquakes and floods … (IELTS speaking answer)
  8. The book =>  Of Mice and Men … (IELTS speaking answer)
  9. its, it=> dog … (IELTS speaking answer)
  10. one’s => everybody … (IELTS speaking answer)
About the Author

About the Author

CEO and Co-founder of Juice Academy

Mehdi Safavi is a Cambridge certified English teacher (CELTA Grade A), IDP-trained IELTS expert, Sussex Downs College TESOL with 17+ years of teaching & teacher training experience. More about him →


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