Paraphrasing made easy!

With English being the language of international communication, there are now plenty of tests of English for non-native speakers  – IELTS, TOEFL, KET-CPE, to name but a few. Seemingly different, such tests often assess pretty much the same skills and abilities. Paraphrasing is one of them. The ability to paraphrase is vital in Speaking and Writing parts of any test of English. Why? Because it shows that you actually understand the information you are given and, more importantly, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of English! Many people struggle with paraphrasing. Yet, it’s not rocket science and in this post I am going to talk about very simple paraphrasing techniques. Bear with me…

First, a word of warning: Don’t get too obsessed! There are words you don’t have to and even shouldn’t paraphrase! There is no need to say conventional words in a different way, like chair or passport. Nor should you try to rephrase specialized or scientific vocabulary, like genetically-modified food or greenhouse gases.

When you do need to paraphrase, here are the techniques that will help you:

1 Use synonyms.

It will have a negative effect on the economy. / It will have a harmful effect on the economy.

This looks pretty straightforward. However, you have to be careful and keep in mind that very few words in a language are completely interchangeable and the synonym you find might not suit your sentence as well as you think.

2 Use antonyms.

It is hard. / It is not easy. It’s the cheapest. / It’s the least expensive.

3 Explain a word.

Violators will be ticketed. / People who break the law will receive a ticket.

Obviously, it only works with words that can be explained in a short way.

4 Change word forms.

Many words have several grammatical forms, for example, compete (v) – competition (n) – competitor (n) – competitive (adj) – competitively (adv).

Competition for quality jobs at postgraduate level is fierce. / Postgraduate students have to compete hard for quality jobs.

This approach is useful not only because it helps to avoid copying the original word, but also because it involves changing sentence structure and thus helps you to create a completely different sentence.

5 Change sentence structure.

This one includes several sub-techniques:

- Change the grammar.

Active / Passive: Trained scientists performed this research. / This research was performed by trained scientists.

Infinitive / Gerund: It’s easy to use it. / Using it is easy.

Subject + verb / Participle: After he left the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths. / After leaving the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths.

- Change sentence connectors.

Although the scientist spent years studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise her.

Despite years spent studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise the scientist.

/ The scientist spent years studying gorillas; however, their behavior would still surprise her.

- Change the order of ideas.

The spread of GM trials led to a series of protests. / A series of protests resulted from the spread of GM trials.

Ideally, in order to create top-notch paraphrases, you should use a variety of techniques and combine them. Have a look at how the techniques work together:

(Source: Oxford Grammar for EAP

Now let me try. Here is an essay topic (IELTS Writing Task 2) and below is my introduction for this essay.

At present there is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to people’s health and causes a range of diseases, including terminal. In an effort to reduce the harmful effects of this bad habit, some countries have prohibited smoking in public places. Some people believe that this approach should be implemented worldwide. I completely agree with this opinion and shall argue that smoking should not be allowed anywhere on public premises except a number of designated areas.

You see, paraphrasing is a piece of cake. By the way, which techniques did I use?

Before I finish another word of warning: Don’t get too excited and don’t forget that your sentence must retain its original meaning!

Now paraphrase to your heart’s content and here is an essay topic to help you get cracking.

Main sources used to write this post:
- The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test
- Oxford Grammar for EAP
- Express to the TOEFL iBT Test

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