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. 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.

  2. 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

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

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

    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 ..

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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 .

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. Kulwinder Kaur says

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

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

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

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

  24. 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?



  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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

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

  31. 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.

  32. 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

  33. 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.

  34. Thank you

  35. Paramjeet Singh Dhunna says

    Hii Liz

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

    Really Thanks Liz..God bless you..

  36. 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.

  37. What about idioms??

  38. 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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