IELTS Writing: Might or May

One of my students asked me the difference between "might" and "may" yesterday. I assume that many of you might have the same question about use of synonyms. Here is a quicky explanation.

Might and may both express the idea of possibility. Nowadays, might and may express equal levels of possibility. Some people insist that you should use may (present tense) when talking about a current situation and might (past tense) when talking about an event that happened in the past. For example:

  • may go home early if I’m tired. (present tense)
  • He might have visited Italy before settling in Nuremberg. (past tense)

In practice, this distinction is rarely made today and the two words are generally interchangeable.
However, may can be used for permission. For example:

  • May I go to the concert?

(This means the same as "Am I allowed to go to the concert?")

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Student’s question

One of my students asked me about the differences amongst ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, ‘in spite of’, ‘even so’, and ‘yet’.

However and nevertheless: to express a contrast

We can use either of the adverbs however or nevertheless to indicate that the second point we wish to make contrasts with the first point. The difference is one of formality: nevertheless is bit more formal and emphatic than however. Consider the following:

  • I can understand everything you say about wanting to share a flat with Martha. However, I am totally against it.
  • Rufus had been living in the village of Edmonton for over a decade. Nevertheless, the villagers still considered him to be an outsider.

Note that however and nevertheless are normally placed in initial position in a sentence when contrasting two ideas. They can, however, also come in mid position or end position:

  • There will be no more pay increases this year. That is for sure. We have, however, agreed to carry out a full review of pay and conditions. (We have agreed, nevertheless, to carry out a full review of pay and conditions.)
  • His whole life has been plagued by illness, however.
  • His whole life has been plagued by illness, nevertheless.

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IELTS Writing – Student’s Question

What are the differences between Academic Writing Task2 and General Training Writing Task2? Are they marked the same way?

In Academic Task 2, you are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The issues raised are of general interest to, suitable for and easily understood by you entering undergraduate or postgraduate studies or seeking professional registration. Academic Task 2, depending on the task type, you are assessed on your ability to present a solution to a problem; to present and justify an opinion; to compare and contrast evidence, opinions and implications; to evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument.

In General Training Task 2, you are asked to write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem. The essay can be slightly more personal in style than the Academic Writing Task 2 essay. (You may use your personal experience as an example, but don’t try to tell a story and make sure it is relevant to the question. If part of your answer is not related to the topic you will lose marks, even if your grammar is perfect.) In General Training Task 2, you are assessed on your ability to provide general factual information; to outline a problem and present a solution; to present and possibly justify an opinion; to evaluate and challenge ideas, evidence or an argument.

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