Can you use quotes or idioms in your IELTS essay?

Will I get a higher score using idioms or quotes in my IELTS essay?

The answer is clear – no. Idioms, such as “it cost an arm and a leg” are informal which means they are not suitable for IELTS writing task 2 academic or general training essays. However, idioms are only one type of idiomatic language. There are other forms more suitable to IELTS writing, for example “the key to this issue” means the solution not a key you can buy in a shop or use in a door. That is an acceptable type of idiomatic language for a high score in IELTS.

Regarding quotes, the examiner will give you a score based on your own level of English language, not the words you remember from another person. While quotes are suitable for academic essays at university, they will not help your band score for IELTS. Instead, use the idea from the quote and write it in your own words.

What about proverbs in writing?

I would also recommend avoiding proverbs as well. Most proverbs are not appropriate for academic writing. Here’s an example of an inappropriate proverb in writing “all that glitters is not gold”. While the meaning might be perfect for your essay, it would be better to write “people should not be deceived by appearances because they can be deceptive” The latter sentence has a much better variety of appropriate vocabulary for a high score.

Can I use quotes, idioms or proverbs in my IELTS speaking test?

Proverbs and quotes are not usually academic and for that reason are better suited to speaking. However, don’t lose your fluency score because you are trying to remember an idiom. You get a high score when you use appropriate, natural language in the right context. So, don’t try to fill your answers with idioms or proverbs. Using quotes is not really suitable for IELTS because they are not your own words.

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  1. Atena says

    Hi there.I recently took IELTS Academic and recall writing these two phrases :
    1. Make a move in their lives
    2. Work their way up the career ladder

    the mentioned above are not suitable for task 2, are they?

    • The first one isn’t really an expression. To “make a move” is an expression. Unless I see the full sentence, I can’t say whether “make a move with their lives” is actually accurate as a collocation. But the term “make a move” is fine for writing task 2.
      The second expression “work their way up the career ladder” is indeed very suitable for writing task 2.

  2. I have been learning English for almost a year. But nowadays the passion for English language is fading. I can’t find the motivation anymore, can you recommend me any positive solution to solve this problem.

    • Change the way you are learning. Learning should be fun with easy to reach goals. Learning should also be varied. This means you should learn from songs, from films, from books, from articles, from news, from documentaries, from websites, from grammar books, vocabulary books, from writing or recording your own diary etc. If you don’t vary your learning sources, you will lose enthusiasm. Take a break and do something fun with English for a while.

  3. Girisuta Nag says

    Hello Liz,
    I recently wrote my IELTS academic exam and accidentally added the idiom, “born with a silver spoon” for task 2writing the topic was about celebrities that do not have any real skill but just glamour and money. How much points would I loose for this?

    • There is no point system in IELTS Writing Task 2 marking. It will not cause your result to lower. But it will also not cause it to increase. This is why it is always best to express your point using your own words – that’s how you increase your score.

      • Divya says

        Hi Liz
        I recall writing “making holes in the pocket” in my writing task 2. What repercussions would it have?

        • That is an idiom which is not formal or informal, which would make it suitable for writing task 2. But it wouldn’t give you a higher score because you used it. Just writing “causes a degree of financial strain” is better. Also, it looks like you might have made errors with grammar when using it.

  4. Hello Liz,
    When I look up a word in Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary, such as “odour”, I find an Idioms box below the word. It has an idiom:” be in good or bad odour (with someone)”. There isn’t a note informal or formal below that idiom. So, do you think I can use it in both IELTS speaking and IELTS writing? May idioms which are not considered informal or formal be used in IELTS writing exam?

    • Most idioms are informal. This means they might be suitable for IELTS Speaking, but not for IELTS Writing. The main idiomatic expressions which are suitable for IELTS essays are: the key to success, in the long run, around the corner etc. Always be careful trying to push idioms into your Speaking test. Some of them are old fashioned, some are almost never used by natives and some are so over-used by students that they don’t help your score. For example, “to be in good or bad odour with someone” – this is almost never used. If you want to use idiomatic language, it doesn’t mean using idioms. Use phrasal verbs instead.

  5. Versha says

    Hello mam ,

    Can u plz share list of idioms which are accepted in writing tasks as u said some can be used not all so I m in dilemma now and don’t know what are those idioms . As u gave example , the key word to this issue .


    • Yes, some can be used. I’ve listed them in my new Grammar E-book under the chapter of Articles. My Grammar E-book will be released around May 5th. You can also use most phrasal verbs (as long as they are not informal). Phrasal verbs are idiomatic.

  6. Pupinder singh says

    Can i use “jack of all trades , master on none”or ” no play all work ,make jack a dull boy ” in task 2

  7. Can we use achilles heel and kill two birds with one stone in academic writing?

    • You should avoid descriptive idioms which are informal. Those are descriptive and not suitable.

  8. Helen says

    Hello, Liz,
    In one of your lessons, it is written: “the money does not grow on trees”.
    Also, to obtain a higher score, students should use metaphors.

    But reading this your tip I feel confused. To use or not use?
    Where can I found which I can use?
    From your lessons I see only three:
    the key to this issue…
    in the long run…
    and money does not on trees….

    what about “give a hand”?
    Could you give extra examples, please?

    • On the whole, most idioms are informal and over used. As a general rule, it is best not to aim to use them. However, some idioms are possible to use – not many. There is other idiomatic language you can use – phrasal verbs and other expressions “the key to this issue” is one example.

  9. Can I use “the root of the problem” in writing essay?

    • Sure, but avoid using too many learned phrases – the examiner isn’t stupid and will know what you are trying to do. The majority of your essay must be written naturally rather than filled with phrases you have purposely learned. It’s easy for the examiner to see because the phrases do not match the level of the rest of the English and are often used in an unnatural way.

  10. Arun P Mathew says

    Dear Liz,
    Among the requirements for a high score among the band descriptors is the ‘use of idiomatic language in a suitable manner’. Can you explain it or do you think its not mandatory..?


    • Idiomatic language is essential for a high score but it does not mean idioms. Idioms are only one type of idiomatic language as explained on the page above.

  11. Dear Ms Ferguson,
    Thank you for your advice!
    However, on a number of occasions I noted that the link ending in liz-notice-2015-2016 is not functioning any more.
    Could you please tell your colleagues to look into the matter?
    Thank you in advance.
    I appreciate your advice and examples very much.

    • If it isn’t working, it has probably been deleted. It was a notice about my holidays and website, not about IELTS.

      • Akshay Ghai says

        Hello Mam
        Hope you are doing well 😊

        I have a slight doubt in General Type Essay Writing

        Is it okay to use
        -Howbeit instead of However
        -Albeit instead of Although
        -By the same token instead of Moreover

        • Just stick to advised linking words. You won’t get a higher score because you change them.

  12. i used some of the words like rainy seasons and bread and butter. i was thinking, these words might be acceptable in writing task 2 or i should completely avoid them. please, i shall be thankful, if you reply.

    • Avoid any informal language in a formal essay. Some idioms are possible, but it is better to showcase your language in other ways.

  13. Enkhjin says

    Hello Liz
    Thanks for your significant information. Can i use phrasal verbs in writing task 2?

    • Some phrasal verbs can be used in essay writing, but some are informal. You need to be careful which ones you use.

    idioms and phrases is help to get good band score in writing and speaking module

    • This is explained in the page above.

    • Gurpreet singh says

      It has been said by Liz that idioms and proverbs are not suitable for ielts writing task 2 .so don’t apply in your writing tasks.becuse I believe based upon my experience that we should try to use communicate language in writing ,it is the best way to get appropriate score in ielts .don’t rush towards random material and rumors . Follow Liz channel it will definitely help you to gain your score ..

  15. ankit bharti says

    Can we write s in bracket in ilets listening test if we have confusion in plural and singular,but answer sheets are checked by computer. So is it right to put s in bracket.

    • No, you can’t use brackets in the listening test. You must write one answer and it is either wrong or right.

  16. Rahul.R says

    Hello Liz,
    Could you please tell, is it Ok to Start task 2 essay with “It is said that…….”

  17. Hi Liz,

    Your videos are clear & crisp. They are quite valuable for a person who wants to improve English in general and are not limited to IELTS examination.
    Since all 4 facets of the language are covered (Listening, speaking, writing & reading) in IELTS exam , do you think this can be an ideal platform to improve these skills or would you suggest some other forum for continuous upgradation of English language.

  18. Tejpreet says

    Hello Liz I have taking IELTS class regular , but I m not prepaid in writing task , can u pls help me to improve my essay writing .

  19. Oladipupo says

    Good afternoon Madam.
    I appreciate that you spelt out the required number of words in essay writing. Is very instructive to know that words beyond 300 have no value in ielts. But does it lowers one’s score if number of words exceed 300?

    • There is no penalty for over 300 words and there is no upper word limit. However, a long essay might contain more errors which will lower your score and might contain unnecessary information which could also lower your score.

  20. Dear Liz
    I want to assess my essay writing.Is there any option?

  21. Sravanthi says

    Hello Liz,

    I have got below score:
    Writing 6.5

    I want to write the exam again but before that i want to know how can i increase my band from 6.5 to 7.

    Please check below my plan and suggest if it works.

    Write with a pencil and replace the mostly used words with its synonyms while proof reading the essay
    write neatly by giving enough space and to increase the font as i found my writing is bit small and not reader friendly
    improve vocabulary and use some list of common idioms that are allowed to use in IELTS essay

    Sound confident
    use idioms
    give examples and reasons for my answers in speaking part 2 and 3
    in speaking part3 try to use as high vocabulary as i can

  22. Hi Liz, do you have a list of formal idioms to use in the writing part? My friend said that she was able to ise a number of idioms in her writing yask 2 and she got 8.5 in her score. Thanks

    • Use rather.

    • It is not recommended. You can use idiomatic language but idioms are not advisable – mainly because most students can’t distinguish which are suitable and also use them incorrectly. Your friend obviously has excellent understanding of English but anyone with a lower level shouldn’t try.

  23. Kulwinder Kaur says

    hi liz
    I need 6.5 in writing please give suggestions to achieve bands.

  24. Hi Liz,

    I have become an admirer of your lessons lately. I am alright with Listening,reading and speaking. However, I lack something in my writing (I am not sure, what’s that) in which I am not able to score more than band 6.5.Do you provide correctional service?

  25. Prabhjot kaur says

    Hey Liz..
    I have taken IELTS general exam and got following band scores:

    I need 7 in writing. What should I do? Please provide me some useful tips.

  26. Hello liz my exam is on 19th of may. I Can’t concentrate on reading. I need 7 band. Help me please.

  27. i am very week in reading so give me tips of reading

  28. Winston says

    Dear Liz,
    I have recently received several lessons from an IELTS tutor that use to be an IELTS examiner as well. He gave me advice to use proverb in the first paragraph of my IELTS general writing task 2.
    I am confuse now as I saw that some people said it’s not an appropriate style for IELTS writing. What do you think about it?



  29. anjana sharma says

    Hello Liz,

    Thanks for sharing such an important information.
    i am going to take my ielts exam on 30th of this month and that’s too for the very first time. I am not even attending any coaching classes. I am just following your tips. My requirement for band score is 8 in each module. But i am worried about writing, especially task 2. Will you please upload a vedio describing each and every type of essay from introduction to conclusion. It will be a great help for me.

  30. Hi Liz,

    I am new to your blog .I tell you what ? I love it ,It is very helpful.
    I have got question for you,can I use phrasal verbs in writing task 2?


    • Many phrasal verbs are informal so be careful using them. For example, put out a cigarette should be written as extinguish.

  31. Good evening mam I want to know about some important vocabulary which I use easily in essay plz mam help me actually my exam will be on 7th nov last time I gave exam on 1aug I get only 4.5 in writing or 5.5 overall

    • Sorry but there are many topics and each topic has different vocabulary. There is no one list to learn.

  32. Krrish says

    Dear Liz,

    I would like to ask you a general doubt. Is this true that some people to write only 250-270 words in essay to minimise the grammar error whereas others ask to write 350 words to explore our varieties, to add richness, to name but a few in the essay to score band 7+. To what extent it is true?

    • No IELTS essay should be over 300 words. You should aim for between 270 and 290 words. This advice is for all students, even band score 9 students. Writing more does not give you a higher score. Rich language is only one aspect of the marking. See the band score information on the writing task 2 page to learn more.

      • Thanks a lot! But I am afraid that writing rich language within 290 words is not a piece of cake for everyone!

  33. Dear teacher,

    Could I use phrasal verbs in Writing Tasks? To tell the truth, I can’t make a distinction whether phrasal verbs are formal or informal language. Thanks!

    • Most phrasal verbs are informal, for example put out a cigarette = to extinguish a cigarette. But some phrasal verbs can be used, such as the government should bring back… This is part of your language test to see how well you can distinguish between formal and informal language.
      All the best

  34. Thank you for your post, I have a question: Should I use a famous saying in IELTS writing? thank you again .

  35. Adel Tenbellaa says

    Hello Liz,
    Thank you for this valuable information. I will never forget it and will keep it in my mind when writing or speaking.

  36. Reda says

    Dear Madam Liz,
    Good Morning, and how are today? I hope your are doing well.
    I want your help to improve my English skills language, that I can
    get 6.5. However, I had taken exam since 5 month ago and
    I my outcome only 4.5 overall.. Can You please help me?

    Always Appreciated your kind and free lessons assist us..

    • Sorry, this site focuses on exam skills for IELTS. There is only one section on vocabulary. You will need to go to English language websites which you can find through google.
      All the best

  37. Mohamed Sadek says

    Hi Liz
    for the introduction of discussion essay, is it better to give an initial opinion or i can write ” in this essay I am going to examine the both points of view and then I will give my perspective”

    • It is not a good idea to write the instructions. The examiner knows you will discuss both sides and give your opinion because the examiner also has the instructions. If the instructions ask for your opinion, write your opinion in the introduction.

  38. Amel says

    Thank you

  39. Paramjeet Singh Dhunna says

    Hii Liz

    I ll also follow your instruction regarding idioms,proverbs,and quotes.

    Really Thanks Liz..God bless you..

  40. Mohammad Saleem Akhtar says

    Thanks, this is really a very good help as I always use some quotes in my essay. Now I would avoid them.

    • Bakry Mohamed says

      Hi, Liz
      I enjoy all your lessons,actually
      last week I, found alot of tips ,describing ,
      bar chart and writing task2, It really helpful
      I did Ielts five times last year speaking test
      sometimes band 6 lisening always 5 reading and writing
      4 or 4,5 overall 4.5 now I,am going to continue
      I,f you receive this email please tell me which way I have to follow the.


      which way I have to follow .

      • You either need to develop your English language or your IELTS skills and understanding. If your English is not at band 6 level, you won’t get band 6 overall. This is an English language test and the better your English, the better your results. You also need to make sure you understand how to use vocabulary, not just the meaning of words. You need to learn how paraphrases are used and how collocations are used. For writing, I suggest you learn more about the band score requirements to make sure you are going in the right direction.

  41. What about idioms??

  42. Sergei says

    Hello Liz,

    Thank you for this information.
    I thought it would be great to use a proverb or a quote in an essay.
    I will keep in mind what you recommended in this post.

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