Writing a good letter for OET requires a high level of grammatical awareness, and one of the basic skills that is required is an ability to use conjunctions. This skill is, in fact, essential to all kinds of writing in English, and for the purposes of OET letter-writing, all candidates must be completely confident in the use of most conjunctions.
In this article, I will explain how to use two different categories of conjunctions in order to improve your writing skills for the OET exam. Even if you are already pretty comfortable with these parts of speech, it is well worth taking some time to review them in order to increase your grammatical accuracy.
There are various functions that coordinating conjunctions may fulfil, but the most common are joining two independent clauses and connecting items in a list.
First of all, let’s review what coordinating conjunctions are because you will certainly know them, even if you don’t know the term “coordinating conjunction.” The easiest way to remember them is that they can form the acronym, FANBOYS:
I’m sure that even if you hadn’t heard the phrase “coordinating conjunction” before, you surely know each of these words. The words “and” and “but” are among the first ones that English learners will ever encounter as they are so common in this language.
Now let’s look at their two most common uses.
Joining items in a list
It is quite common to list items in English, and this can also happen in the OET writing sub-test. For this purpose, you will need either “and” or “or,” depending on the context. In some rare cases, you may also need “nor.”
She has been taking ibuprofen and paracetamol for her headaches.
The patient said that she would take ibuprofen or paracetamol for her headaches.
When there are more than two items in a list, each item should be separated by a comma, with the coordinating conjunction coming between the final items:
She has been taking ibuprofen, codeine,
and paracetamol for her headaches.
The patient said that she would take ibuprofen,
codeine, or paracetamol for her headaches.
“Nor” is used for negative constructions such as:
She had not taken ibuprofen nor had she taken
paracetamol for her headaches.
You cannot use “nor” with more than two items.
Joining independent clauses
In English, a single independent clause can function alone as a simple sentence, but using these too often can make your writing sound childish and remedial. As such, clauses are more often joined together to create longer sentences. Two independent clauses together are called a compound sentence, while an independent clause joined to a dependent one is called a complex sentence.
Look at the following two sentences:
The patient has no history of drug use.
The patient drinks several glasses of wine each weekend.
Although there is no major problem with this, it is a little too basic. For one thing, there is a repetition of “the patient,” that should be removed, but this could be changed to a pronoun such as “he” or “she.” However, if this sort of writing continued over several sentences, the eﬀect would be quite poor. Simple sentences should only really be used for eﬀect, or when there is no reasonable way of adding multiple clauses.
Those two sentences could easily be combined like this:
The patient has no history of drug use, but she
drinks several glasses of wine each weekend.
In this sentence, “but” shows contrast between the two ideas. Any of the seven coordinating conjunctions can be used to link simple sentences together into a compound sentence, but of course they each have a slightly different meaning, so you must be careful. Also, not all conjunctions can be used to link all simple sentences.
The patient has no history of drug use, nor does she drink several glasses of wine each weekend.
This does not make sense because one part is positive and one part is negative, but “nor” implies that both parts are negative.
The patient has no history of drug use, and she drinks several glasses of wine each weekend.
This is slightly illogical because there is a clear contrast between the ideas in the two clauses, and “and” does not support that.
One very useful conjunction for OET writing is “so,” which shows a cause-and-effect relationship between two parts of a sentence. This can be useful to show why a course of action was taken or a suggestion was made:
The patient presented with severe bruising around the hips, so an MRI of the area was ordered.
He had been experiencing pain for two weeks, so he visited his GP.
I previously mentioned that when a dependent clause is joined to an independent clause, the result is a complex sentence. Complex sentences are, in fact, the most commonly used type of sentence in the English language. You probably use them every time you speak English, even if you didn’t know that they were called complex sentences.
When you join a dependent clause to an independent clause, you need to use a subordinating conjunction. The subordinating conjunction will actually become part of the dependent clause, which some textbooks and teachers refer to as a “subordinate clause.”
There are many subordinating conjunctions, and here are ten of the most common ones as an example, listed in alphabetical order:
Each subordinating conjunction has a different purpose, just like the coordinating conjunctions, and although it may be possible to swap some of them in the same sentence, they are not necessarily interchangeable. You need to be familiar with all of their meanings in order to use them with accuracy.
A subordinating conjunction will come at the beginning of the dependent (or subordinate) clause, but that clause may come as the first or last clause in a sentence, or it may even break up the independent clause.
Let’s take perhaps the most common subordinating conjunction as an example, “because.”
- The patient is overweight because of his poor dietary choices.
- Because of his poor dietary choices, the patient is overweight.
- The patient is, because of his poor dietary choices, overweight.
Notice that when we put the subordinate clause last in the sentence, there is no comma used. However, when the subordinate clause comes first, it is always followed by a comma. If a subordinate clause is used in the middle of an independent clause, there will be two commas used to set it apart from the independent clause. (Please note that his third method is much less common than the other two because it can easily lead to misunderstandings, and as such it is better to use the first two methods for your OET letter.)
One final thing to remember is that while an independent clause can function alone as a simple sentence, a dependent clause cannot. As such, if you ever encounter a single-clause sentence in your writing that begins with a subordinating conjunction, you must change it! This mistake is called a sentence fragment, and it is considered one of the most egregious errors. These should not appear anywhere in your writing.
The patient is overweight
Although this sentence is a little too basic, it is grammatically correct.
Because of his poor dietary choices.
This is a sentence fragment because it begins with a subordinating conjunction but features only one clause. It simply does not make sense by itself and requires an independent clause to complete it.
In order to succeed at OET writing, you must have a mastery of basic grammar, and being able to use all kinds of conjunctions is essential for that purpose. All candidates must be familiar with the meanings and uses of both coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions before they attempt to do the OET writing sub-test. When you know how to use these, you can make your writing more advanced and avoid big mistakes like sentence fragments.