4 Grammatical Structures You Should Use For Band 7+

One of the main things IELTS examiners look for in your writing are complex grammatical structures.

To get a Band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy, you need to use a “variety of complex structures”.

But what does this mean?

What is a complex structure?

Firstly, what does “complex” mean?

Complex has 2 meanings in English:

(1) complicated, as in “a complex mathematical problem” or “complex machinery”.

(2) consists of more than one part, as in “an apartment complex”

Comples Grammatical Structures are not complicated

In the phrase “complex grammatical structure”, complex has the second meaning, “more than one part”.

In other words, a complex grammatical structure is a grammatical structure that consists of more than one part.

It does NOT mean a complicated grammatical structure!

This is great news! It means you do not need to write long, complex sentences in your essays.

Examples of Complex Grammatical Structures

There are lots of different complex grammatical structures you can use in your essays, and using these can help you get Band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

  • complex sentences
  • complex noun phrases
  • complex verb phrases
  • complex verb patterns

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence consists of 2 clauses: an independent clause and a dependent clause.

Here’s an independent clause:

The cat sat on the mat

Now let’s add a dependent clause:

The cat sat on the mat because it was tired.

The second clause in this sentence “because it was tired” gives more information about the first clause “the cat sat on the mat”. On its own “because it was tired” doesn’t make any sense: it needs – or DEPENDS on – the independent clause to help form a complete idea.

Many IELTS candidates write lots of complex sentences in their essays, but they still only get Band 6.

Why is that? There are 2 main reasons.

1. You need to complex sentences with some accuracy to get Band 7.

2. You need to use a VARIETY of complex structures. Complex sentences are only one kind of complex structure.

So let’s look at other kinds of complex structure.

Complex Noun Phrases

One of the best and easiest ways to add complexity to your grammar is by using complex noun phrases.

A noun phrase is a group of words that performs the function of a noun.

A basic noun phrase often has words BEFORE the noun:

e.g. the little, black cat

A complex noun phrase has words AFTER the noun (and sometimes before the noun as well):

e.g. the cat with black fur / the little cat with black fur

Here are some more examples of complex noun phrases (the complex noun phrases are in bold):

  • The cat lying on the mat is sleeping.
  • In this essay, I will discuss the problem of traffic congestion.
  • Students who have little money will need to get a job.
  • People owning their own homes dislike property taxes.
  • Animals protected by the WWF are often endangered.
  • The ability to write clearly is important in IELTS.
  • The percentage of people in full time work increased by 5%.
  • The news that the vaccine was ready was wonderful.

These complex noun phrases are all examples of complex grammatical structures, and these are the kinds of phrases IELTS examiners are looking for when they assess your essays.

If you can use just a few of these in your writing, with SOME accuracy, you stand a great chance of getting a Band 7 for Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

Complex Verb Phrases

Another type of complex grammatical structure is the complex verb phrase.

A complex verb phrase is a group of words that performs the function of a verb.

There are two common types of complex verb phrase:

  • modal verbs
  • passive verbs

The simplest way of creating a complex verb phrase is by using modal verbs:

  • Teachers can use a variety of methods.
  • This could lead to several problems.
  • This may result in criminal activity.
  • Governments must limit traffic on roads.
  • This would lead to more effective teaching.

Modal verbs are great! Not only do they increase the range of your grammar, they ALSO add precision to your vocabulary AND help you to avoid exaggerated claims…so modal verbs can help you get a higher band score for Task Response and Lexical Resource, as well as Grammatical Range and Accuracy!

Another way to create complex verb phrases is to use passive verbs:

  • The same products are sold by shops all over the world.
  • Public transport is used by many people in Bangkok.
  • Taxes have been raised by governments in many countries to pay for health care.

You can also use modal verbs and passive verbs together:

  • A variety of methods can be used by teachers.
  • Public transport should be used by more people to reduce traffic congestion.
  • Taxes could be raised in order to improve health care.

Complex Verb Patterns

Another type of complex grammatical structure is the complex verb pattern.

A complex verb pattern is a verb followed by more than one grammatical item. This is a more advanced structure, so take care if you are only aiming for Band 7!

Here is an example of a complex verb pattern:

Many students spend their free time studying.

In this sentence , the verb “spend” is followed by 2 grammatical items: a noun phrase “their free time” and an ‘-ing’ form “studying”.

complex verb pattern

Here are some more complex verb patterns:

  • The job would give them motivation. (verb + pronoun + noun)
  • This will encourage children to study. (verb + noun + infinitive)
  • The cat likes her bed soft. (verb + noun phrase + adjective)

As you can see, these sentences are not long and complicated! But they do use complex grammatical structures.


  • To get a Band 7 for GRA you need to use a “variety of complex structures”.
  • Complex structures are grammatical structures made up of more than one part.
  • Complex sentences are one kind of complex structure, but they are NOT the only kind of complex structure.
  • Other complex structures include:
    • complex noun phrases
    • complex verb phrases
    • complex verb patterns
  • NONE of these are very complicated.

You may already be using some of these complex structures in your writing. If so, you won’t need to write lots of complex sentences.

Just remember, if you want band 7 or higher, use a VARIETY of complex structures. Not just complex sentences.

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

Charles Cornelius is a PGCE and CELTA-qualified teacher and former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds a MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 70,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.