Carrier Nouns: a great way to improve cohesion

In this post, you will learn what carrier nouns are, and how to use them. 

You probably know that one of the four assessment criteria in the IELTS Writing Test is Coherence and Cohesion. Coherence is concerned with the way you organise your writing; cohesion is concerned with the way you link the ideas in your writing.

There are many ways to create cohesion. One of the most commonly used ways to create cohesion is using transition signals: e.g. phrases like “firstly”, “on the one hand” and “in my opinion”. But there are other ways – or devices – to create cohesion.

One of these cohesive devices is the carrier noun. Carrier nouns are an incredibly powerful cohesive device which is used in academic writing all the time, but they are under-used by many IELTS test takers.

I hope this post will encourage you to use carrier nouns in your own writing!

Carrier Nouns
A carrier noun carries ideas, just like a box carries groceries!

What Are Carrier Nouns?

Carrier nouns are very powerful words. They simply summarise an idea in a general way, and this makes them useful in writing for 2 main reasons:

  1. they help you to avoid repeating words and phrases
  2. they create a link back to a more specific idea – so it improves cohesion

They’re called “carrier” nouns because they are nouns which can “carry” or “contain” lots of different ideas. Just like a box can carry or contain lots of different groceries (see the image above!), a carrier noun can carry ideas. For example, the carrier noun, “problem” can “carry” the meaning of more specific ideas like global warming, obesity, poverty, social inequality and crime.

Note: some teachers use different terms for carrier noun, including:

  • shell nouns 
  • signalling nouns
  • anaphoric nouns 
  • container nouns
  • summary nouns
Here are some examples of how carrier nouns can be used:

Example 1

Compare these 2 sentences:

Some people watch too much TV, but watching too much TV can create problems.

Some people watch too much TV, but this habit can create problems.

The 1st sentence repeats the idea of ‘watching too much TV’.

Some people watch too much TV, but watching too much TV can create problems.

But in the 2nd sentence, the carrier noun “habitsummarises the idea the idea of ‘watching too much TV’ with a single word.

Some people watch too much TV, but this habit can create problems.

(Watching too much TV is a habit – it’s something that some people do every day.)

So, using the word “habit” achieves 2 great things:

  1. “habit” means we avoid repeating the phrase “watch too much TV”
  2. “habit” creates a link back to the more specific idea “watch too much TV” – so it improves cohesion’.

Example 2

Compare these 2 short texts:

More people are doing their shopping online. Doing shopping online has led to the decline of independent shops in many town centres.
More people are doing their shopping online. This trend has led to the decline of independent shops in many town centres.

 The 1st sentence repeats the idea of ‘doing shopping online’.

More people are doing their shopping online. Doing shopping online has led to the decline of independent shops in many town centres.

But in the 2nd sentence, the carrier noun “trend summarises the idea the idea of ‘doing shopping online.

More people are doing their shopping online. This trend has led to the decline of independent shops in many town centres.

(The shift from town centre shopping to online shopping can be described as a “trend” because it’s a change in the way a whole population is behaving.)

So, again, using a carrier noun means we avoid repeating vocabulary while improving cohesion. 

Example 3

Here is part of a model essay published in Cambridge IELTS 10:

It is said that countries are becoming similar to each other because of the global spread of the same products, which are now available for purchase almost anywhere. I strongly believe that this modem development is largely detrimental to culture and traditions worldwide. 

(Cambridge IELTS 10 Test 3 Academic)

In this example, the carrier noun, “development” summarises the idea “the global spread of the same products”. 

It is said that countries are becoming similar to each other because of the global spread of the same products, which are now available for purchase almost anywhere. I strongly believe that this modem development is largely detrimental to culture and traditions worldwide. 

So, again, using a carrier noun means we avoid repeating vocabulary and improve cohesion.

'This' and 'These'

You may have noticed that I used the word “this” with the carrier nouns in the examples above:

Some people watch too much TV, but this habit can create problems.
More people are doing their shopping online. This trend has led to the decline of independent shops in many town centres.
I strongly believe that this modem development is largely detrimental to culture and traditions worldwide. 

The words “this” and “these” (e.g. “these problems”, “these changes”) are often used with carrier nouns because they make the link between the carrier noun and the idea it ‘carries’ much clearer. For example, look at these 2 sentences:

Some people watch too much TV, but this habit can create problems.
Some people watch too much TV, but the habit can create problems.

In the first sentence, the use of “this” improves cohesion – it makes the writing flow better. 

 

Carrier Nouns may help you get Band 7+

The IELTS assessment criteria says that to get a Band 7 for Coherence and Cohesion, you need to use “a range of cohesive devices appropriately”. Using carrier nouns will help you to increase this range. Remember, most test takers tend to reply on transition signals, referencing and conjunctions for cohesion. If you also include some carrier nouns, your range will increase.

Even better, using carrier nouns will also increase the range of your vocabulary, helping you achieve a Band 7 for Lexical Resource

It also makes your writing more concise because you are replacing a lot of words with one word. 

Good essays use clear, concise language, not long-winded, repetitive language!  

Note: using carrier nouns does not guarantee Band 7! You must use them appropriately – in other words, don’t try to force them into your writing – just use them when they’re needed.

Carrier Nouns Word List

Here is a list of useful carrier nouns for IELTS Writing:

Note: this list is not exhaustive! Whether a noun is a carrier noun (or not) depends on the context in which it is used. Many more words than these can be used as carrier nouns, and sometimes the words in this list don’t act as carrier nouns. 

Carrier Nouns

Practice Activities

Which word in each sentence is a carrier noun?

Read the sentence, and click on the carrier noun. Good luck!

Posted in IELTS Writing Task 1, IELTS Writing Task 2.

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