Jessica Beck
"Director of IELTS Training"
Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"

Today we share a common IELTS mistake made by many students.

We have shared in the past that you can’t always trust the thesaurus!

When looking up synonyms for words, many of them have specific contexts.

You must be sure to use them in the correct context.

We’ll share a mistake from a Task 1 essay to help you avoid this mistake on test day.

Mistake from Task 1 essay

This essay showed a line graph depicting use of electronics over a period of time.

It contained this sentence:

The line graph illustrates the consumption of electronic products between January to June. 

The error is that the noun “consumption” and the verb “consume” are not direct synonyms for the verb “use” in every context.

Today we’ll explain how you can use these words and synonyms for “use” in different contexts.

How to use “consumption”

Things that can be consumed are decreased when used.

The following are a few things that can be consumed:

  • food
  • beverages
  • time
  • energy

We cannot refer to any renewable resources as being consumed.

We don’t say that electricity, fuel or similar resources are consumed.

Instead, you can say they are utilized or that one “makes use of it.”

Many meanings of “use”

“Use” is very versatile and is used in many ways.

There are 22 definitions in the dictionary we checked.

Here are a few of the most popular:

  1. Noun: The use of a hammer is…
  2. Past tense verb: I used to do this but not now…
  3. Verb meaning to employ for a purpose: use the dining room table, use a hammer…
  4. Verb meaning accustomed to: I’m used to going to the gym…
  5. Verb meaning to exploit: I feel used…

#1: Utilize

This is a direct synonym of use.

It is a great way to avoid repetition of the verb “use.”

Many ways to say “use” have specific meanings, but this one is general.

You can confidently replace “use” with it in all contexts.

The same is true for “make use of.”

Because it is a phrasal verb, it is a bit more informal.

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#2: Exercise

We often use “exercise” when talking about using one’s rights.

I’m going to exercise my right to vote.

She exercised her right to attend the meeting.

#3: Exert

“Exert” is often used to mean using one’s energy.

I exerted all my strength trying to lift the couch.

I had to exert way too much energy on that.

#4: Accustomed to

We say “used to” when we mean accustomed to.

I’m used to waking up early.

He’s used to being single.

#5: Exploit

This is a high-scoring synonym for use because students don’t use it often.

This has a negative connotation.

It often refers to using a situation or person in an unfair or selfish way.

I felt exploited by the company’s return policy.


You will likely need the verb “use” on IELTS Writing and Speaking.

It’s vital that you avoid repetition to score 7+ on vocabulary scores.

In order to do this, you need synonyms and parallel expressions.

Practice using today’s synonyms for “use.”

They must each be used in the correct context or vocabulary scores will go down.

For all the strategies you need, sign up for 3 Keys IELTS!

What questions do you have from today’s episode?

Please leave a comment below.

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