How to use tenses correctly in your IELTS essays and letters?

Use different grammatical constructions in your IELTS letters and essays. Sticking to just one tense is a great mistake. By using different grammatical structures you can add variety and sophistication to your writing and that is exactly what the examiner is trying to assess. Remember that your letters and essays are marked for their grammatical range and accuracy.

Even if the letter is mostly about the past, you can write about other times too. Here are some rules for the correct use of tenses.

Tenses in subordinate clauses

Present tenses are often used instead of will + infinitive to refer to the future in subordinate clauses. This usually happens in subordinate clauses introduced by words like when, until, after, before, as soon as, if, whether, where, who and what.

I will write to you if I have time. (NOT I will write to you if I will have time.)

I will think of you when I am lying on the beach tomorrow. (NOT I will think of you when I will be lying on the beach tomorrow.)

I will follow you wherever you go. (NOT I will follow you wherever you will go.)

I will wait until you get ready. (NOT I will wait until you will get ready.)

You will find Coca-Cola wherever you go. (NOT You will find Coca-Cola wherever you will go.)

I will call you if I have time. (NOT I will call you if I will have time.)

Tense in clauses introduced by words like in case, I hope, I bet, it doesn’t matter etc

A present tense is normally used with a future meaning after in case. This happens even if the main verb is present or past.

I have bought a bottle of wine in case Peter comes.

After I hope and I bet, present tenses are often used with future meanings.

I hope she recognizes me.

I hope she wins.

I bet she wins the first prize.

When the verb in the main clause is a conditional form, we usually use a simple past tense in the subordinate clause.

He would never do anything that harmed her. (More natural than ‘He would never do anything that would harm her.’)

When the verb in the main clause is in the past perfect tense, we usually use a simple past tense in the subordinate clause.

I hadn’t realized what she wanted. (NOT I hadn’t realized what she had wanted.)

Tenses in conditional clauses

First conditional

In first conditional sentences, we use a present tense in the if clause and will + infinitive in the result clause.

If you eat too much, you will fall ill.

If you ask her, she will help you.

Second conditional

In second conditional sentences, we use a simple past tense in the if-clause and would + infinitive in the result clause.

If you ate too much, you would fall ill.

If you asked her, she would come.

Third conditional

In third conditional clauses, we use a past perfect tense in the if-clause and would have + past participle in the result clause.

If you had asked her, she would have come.

Clauses beginning because, although, as and since

In clauses beginning because, although, as and since, we can use a future tense even if the verb in the main clause is in the future tense.

I will come to the theatre with you, although I probably won’t enjoy the play.

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