Understanding parallel expressions in IELTS reading

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Understanding parallel expressions in IELTS readingUnderstanding parallel expressions in IELTS reading is an essential skill if you are looking for a good result in the IELTS reading test. Parallel expressions (also referred to as ‘paraphrasing’) are words, phrases or sentences that have the same meaning but are written using a different structure, vocabulary or grammar.

Parallel expressions in IELTS reading can be created in two ways:

  • By different word families: Our cities are becoming increasingly polluted. > Pollution is increasing in our cities.
  • With different vocabulary: Yet the reality is nowhere near as appealing. > The truth, however, is far less attractive.

Here are some more examples of parallel expressions in IELTS reading:

The environmental impact of the increasing number of cars on the road is devastating.
The rise in the volume of cars being used is highly destructive to the environment.

Without a convenient and economical public transport system, most people will continue to use their cars to get to work.
The majority of commuters will not abandon their own private vehicle until mass transit options become more flexible and better priced.

The situation is intensified by the rising number of two-car families.
The problem has been heightened by the increasing number of households that own two vehicles.

Car-sharing schemes, where people travel together in one vehicle, have not been particularly successful.
Reducing the number of single occupant cars have not been a great success.


Although contaminants in petrol have been reduced, they still pose a significant threat.
Despite now having lower levels of contamination, petrol is still a notable concern.

The lack of government legislation to control exhaust fumes, especially from older cars, has exacerbated the problem.
The problem has been heightened, to a large extent from older vehicles, because there are insufficient laws to govern this.

In addition to environmental damage, increased air pollution has direct health consequences.
Airborne pollutants can have a clear impact on health as well as the effect on the environment as a whole.

Respiratory diseases have increased, especially within inner-city areas.
Those residing in urban areas are increasingly likely to suffer with breathing related conditions.

Benzene, a by-product of the combustion of petrol, has been linked to birth defects.
Complications arising from birth have been connected to benzene, a specific secondary result of burning gas.

Yet while the car retains its image of freedom and individuality, it is unlikely that people will opt to take the bus.
Public transport will probably not be used commonly until the use of private vehicles is no longer considered to represent a feeling of being unique and allowing people to travel freely.

Practice with parallel expressions

Read the text below and answer the questions.

There is a dark corporate conspiracy at work in the petroleum industry. On television and in the media we are constantly bombarded with images of green trees, promised a fuel that is ’97% cleaner than ever before’ and told we are heading towards ‘a healthier future’. Yet the reality is nowhere near as appealing. Our cities are becoming increasingly polluted as the number of cars continues to rise and petrol emissions show no sign of easing. Much like car manufacturers who market their products under the image of freedom and independence, we are being sold a fantasy which simply does not hold true.

Answer the following questions using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS FROM THE TEXT

1. Who is responsible for the shadowy scheme of selling dreams, not the truth?  

Show answer
The petroleum industry. Consider how the language has changed – ‘dark > ‘shadowy’. ‘sold a fantasy’ > ‘selling dreams’, ‘does not hold true’ > ‘not the truth’

2. Who sells their product as a symbol of independence?

Show answer
Car manufacturers. This is a little easier as the question uses the word family of one of the words in the question (independent). However, ‘symbol’ has changed to ‘image of”.

3. What images are we constantly bombarded with?

Show answer
Green trees. This should be the easiest of the three answers as you can match complete phrases in the text.

In the IELTS reading test, there are three ways you can find answers to questions:

1. matching exact phrases in the textQuestion: What images are we constantly bombarded with? Text: we are constantly bombarded with images of
2. scanning for matching wordsQuestion: Who sells their product as a symbol of independence? Text: car manufacturers who market their products under the image of freedom and independence
3. looking for parallel expressionsQuestion: Who is responsible for the shadowy scheme of selling dreams, not the truth? Text: a dark corporate conspiracy at work we are being sold a fantasy which simply does not hold true

As with any useful tip or hint, you need to practice by applying these techniques to an authentic IELTS reading test – take a look at our complete practice tests to try out your new skills.


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