How to generalize in English

Addressing general questions

by | Aug 8, 2019 | Speaking, Writing

IELTS writing Task 2 and IELTS Speaking part 3 are the sections where candidates are asked more general questions. That is why every IELTS candidate must know how to properly address more general questions, but unfortunately in many cases, they don’t.

Here’s a little test. Which sentence(s) can be used to generalize?

a) University is a place to study.
b) Universities are places to study.
c) The university is a place to study.
d) A university is a place to study.

Countable nouns

Pluralize them:
Cars are essential means of today’s transportation.
Nurses are more likely to retire sooner than doctors.

Uncountable nouns

Just use the simple form of the word:

Water is found almost everywhere on the planet.
Coffee grows in hot places.

Note: uncountable nouns act like a singular countable noun, so the verb “is” fits here.

Note: Do not use definite article “the” as the meaning will change.
[The] customers are always right.

Special words:

Everyone enjoys listening to music.
No one can tolerate harsh weather conditions in Antarctica.
Nobody has ever set foot on Mars.

Note: These words act like a singular countable noun.

Special adverbs:

Generally, you cannot get a good job without enough education.
In general, women tend to talk about their feelings more than men.
By and large, charities do not pay federal tax.

Note: Use a comma after all these adverbs.

Adjectives

Yes! You can generalize using adjectives. Follow this formula:

the + adjective

Take a look at these examples:

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
Out with the old, in with the new
People should help the desperate and the destitute.

Note 1: Use this structure only about well-known groups of people.
Note 2: This structure acts like a plural countable noun.

Singular nouns

Yet another surprise: singular nouns can be used to generalize too:

the + singular countable noun

Here are some examples:

The wheel has revolutionized human transportation.
The horse is an elegant animal. (the horse = horses)

Schools should concentrate more on the child and less on exams.
The city can be intolerable for migrants, especially the unskilled.

Note 1: This structure is common for the names of scientific instruments and inventions, and musical instruments..
Note 2: This structure acts exactly like a singular countable noun.

Answer Key:

a) University is a place to study. (This is not general. It defines the word “university”.)
b) Universities are places to study. (This means universities in general.)
c) The university is a place to study. (This means universities in general.)

d) A university is a place to study. (This means any university [out of many] can be a place to learn something.)

The correct answers are B and C.

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 and British Council staff member with 17+ years of teaching & teacher training experience. More about him →

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