Today I wrote:

After studying for 1 year, I got 6.5 in the IELTS exam.

And the first part (before the comma) of the sentence got me thinking: where is the subject?

What I want to know is:

  1. Is the 1st part of this sentence correct?
  2. If so, what/where is its subject?
  • The first clause does not need a subject. But you could say it refers forward to "I" , the subject of the main clause. Sep 12 '15 at 9:11

When the Subject of a subordinate clause is the same as the Subject of a main clause, we can usually omit the Subject from the subordinate clause.

In English, clauses with a tensed verb must have a Subject, and for this reason, whenever the Subject is missing we will see a non-tensed (non-finite) version of the verb. In addition, any tensed forms of BE will therefore be omitted if the Subject is missing:

  • Although she was late, she still attended the meeting.
  • Although late she still attended the meeting. (Subject and tensed BE omitted)

  • After I studied for one year, I got 6.5 in my IELTS exam.

  • After studying for one year, I got 6.5 in my IELTS exam. (No Subject, verb in non-finite -ing form)

We can of course also omit the Subjects of subordinate clauses which use to-infinitives when they are the same as the Subject in the main clause (because these, like -ing forms, are not tensed):

  • For her to pass the exam, Paula will need to get over 60%.
  • To pass the exam, Paula will need to get over 60%.

Although it is frowned upon by some style guides, and prescribed against in some exams (for example in SAT exams), in real life people often omit the Subjects of subordinate -ing clauses when they are clearly discernible from the context:

  • Without going into details, the party was a complete disaster.

In the sentence above the understood Subject of going is me in other words, the speaker. The Subject of the main clause is, of course, the party. Nonetheless, there is nothing strange or odd about this sentence. In real life, writers should avoid omitting Subjects in subordinate clauses when it will jar the reader or cause confusion. The following is bad writing:

  • Lying on the floor bleeding like that, I now wished I hadn't shot him.

The sentence above is bad, because we cannot be entirely confident whether the speaker or the person who was shot is lying on the floor. It doesn't matter that some grammars would allow this if the speaker was on the floor. In real life readers will be confused, because real language users might be referring to either person!

The Original Poster's Example

After studying for 1 year, I got 6.5 in the IELTS exam.

Because the Subject of the main clause is I, we will interpret the Subject of the subordinate clause as being the same person. The sentence is perfectly fine and perfectly grammatical.

A note about IELTS scores

If you are taking IELTS (International English Language Testing System), you will not be marked down for using grammar or vocabulary from standard Englishes from the UK, the USA or Australia, for example. It is after all an international English exam. The Original Poster uses in their example:

  • I got 6.5 in the IELTS exam

This is completely grammatical in standard British English. Takers of this exam might come across advice that speakers of American English would use the phrasing:

  • I got a 6.5 on my IELTS exam.

This is true. However, students undertaking an IELTS exam should not regard this as guidance for how to speak during an IELTS exam, or indeed guidance about how to write in an IELTS exam, if they are already familiar with the Original Poster's usage. Unlearning something completely grammatical for one standard discourse community - in favour of learning something that's ungrammatical in that discourse community but grammatical in another - is a waste of time. This is especially true for someone taking an exam which recognises different international standard varieties of English.

Perhaps a more useful illustration of this point is that - without fail - the actual IELTS exam board themselves use the Original Poster's phrasing in all of their published material. Here is an example from the Cambridge English Language Assessment publication Comparing scores on Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) and IELTS:

Candidates who have secured a Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C are at Level C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference and can be expected to be comparable in ability with candidates who have secured 6.5 or 7.0 in IELTS. [emphasis mine]

Searches on Googlebooks or GoogleScholar will show that in IELTS is four to ten times more frequent that on IELTS.

The Ngram for "in IELTS" and "on IELTS" shows no results for "on IELTS" at all. If you click on the Ngram results for "in IELTS" you will find 19 pages of results referring to getting this or that score "in IELTS"

So, if you're going into your IELTS speaking exam, just stick with "got 6.5 in my IELTS exam"!!

  • 1
    All answers were great, but this one is not only fairly complete but also clarifies a little bit more about reporting IELTS scores. Thank you so much. Sep 13 '15 at 10:20
  • Slightly off topic: I've always imagined the IELTS 8.05 or 9.0 had to be equivalent to C2. But if 6.5 or 7.0 in IELTS is equivalent to C1 Advanced, what is B2 (FIRST/FCE) equivalent to? A 5.5 or 6.0?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 10 '16 at 12:46
  • @Mari-LouA Yes, I think that's right. I kind of consider 6.5 being on the margin between Upper Int and Advanced. Nov 10 '16 at 12:50
  • Thanks, I got the impression that a 6.5 was clearly level B2.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 10 '16 at 14:12

When the subject + verb of a subordinate clause like that is replaced with an -ing form, the subject of the subordinate clause is usually the same as a the subject of the main clause. So,

After I studied for one year, I got 6.5 on the IELTS exam.

After studying for one year, I got 6.5 on the IELTS exam.

According to the Grammar Police, it is only possible to convert subject + verb to verb-ing when those subjects are the same, and I advise you to follow that pattern when you write or speak.

But native speakers break this "rule" all the time, and rely on context and common sense to indicate what the subject is:

After reading it carefully and doing painstaking edits, my term paper still came back covered in red ink.

Obviously, my term paper didn't read and edit itself, I did.

This isn't germane to your question, but the usual idiom in American English, when reporting exams scores, is to say,

I got a 6.5 on the IELTS exam;

I got a 1600 2400 on the SAT.

Steve got a 95 on last week's math test.

unless your numeric score represents a specific number of grading points or correct answers.

  • Superb answer. Can't upvote it yet though, because in the UK it's very definitely "I got (a) 6.5 in IELTS" and even the IELTS material itself talks about getting this or that mark in IELTS, not on IELTS .... Sep 12 '15 at 8:47
  • 2
    Native speakers break this rule frequently when speaking. Native speakers who break this rule in writing are liable to not do as well on the SAT as those who follow it. Sep 12 '15 at 9:08
  • @Araucaria In America we generally get grades (marks) in a subject, such as English, or in a class, such as my 3:00 Law class, but on an exam, assignment, or similar.
    – amalloy
    Sep 12 '15 at 11:09
  • @amalloy Yes, that's right :) But in the UK we don't! More pertinent here perhaps because the OP's going to be sitting IELTS, which is an exam run by the University of Cambridge , UK! So it would be more helpful to the OP to explain this difference, or not mention it at all - because it reads a bit like a correction of the OP's original question, which was in fact, perfectly fine. Sep 12 '15 at 11:46

You can write the sentence either way:

After studying for 1 year, I got 6.5 in the IELTS exam.


I got 6.5 in the IELTS exam after studying for 1 year.

The first part of your sentence "After studying for 1 year" is OK.

The subject is "I" which is in the second part of your sentence.

Another example:

After winning the prize, she became famous overnight.

Here, the subject is 'she'.

  • I gave your posts a little edit :-) Hope you agree with it. If not, feel free to roll it back, of course! Nov 10 '16 at 9:51

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