GT Writing letter 10: Apologising (personal and formal styles)

You have arranged a weekend holiday with a group of friends, but due to your studies you will now be unable to go with them.

Write to your friends, and
Tell them why you are unable to go
Say sorry for this
Suggest an alternative activity at another time

Begin your letter ‘Dear ——–’
Do not write any addresses
Write at least 150 words

Explanation of the Task

Recipient: These are friends that you obviously know well. Your letter needs to show your sensitivity to the fact that you have disappointed them.

Style: The letter will be personal; it is also addressed to more than one person.

Content: The Task is asking for explaining (why you can’t go), apologising for this, and suggesting another activity. Logically, this should be related to holidays in some way.

Band 9 model letter 10

Dear Peter and Anna,
I’m sorry to say that I have some bad news, which is that I won’t be able to go with you on the camping trip as we agreed. The reason is that I am running very late with two of my college
assignments, which both have to be handed in on the Monday after the trip. This means that if I go away, I might fail these projects, and so I’d have to wait another six months before going on to the next module of studies.

I’m very sorry for the short notice and for letting you down like this. I can understand it’s probably quite annoying for you both, and I can only sympathise with your feelings. If it’s any comfort, I feel terrible about it too.

To make up for it, here is an idea you might like. My uncle has a farm in the mountains which would be perfect for another trip in the summer. I could make all the arrangements, book the bus tickets and ask my uncle to show us around the area in his Jeep, which would be a lot of fun. I hope that sounds like a good alternative for you!

Do let me know what you think, and sorry for the trouble once again.

All the best,


(217 words)

Why is this a Band 9 letter?

Recipient:The greeting and conclusion are personal, showing that these are close friends. The friendly sentence at the end (‘Do let me know . . .’) is a typical way to conclude a personal letter.

Style:The candidate uses generally informal vocabulary and phrasing, including contractions and some phrasal verbs (‘to run late/ to go on to/to let someone down/ to make up for something/ to show someone around.’) The examiner will notice these phrasal verbs and give marks for using them naturally.

At the same time, the writer shows that this is a serious subject and that he feels bad about the situation by using a few formal words at key points (‘assignments/annoying/sympathise/arrangements/alternative.’) This makes sure that the letter recognises the writer’s responsibility for the situation.

Content:The three content ideas are organised in three sections, and the opening words of each section make clear that the main idea is being presented.

The writer has invented quite a lot of details about the situation (‘the assignment/due on Monday/the bus tickets/the jeep/the uncle in the mountains’) and this is probably the maximum amount of detail that the IELTS examiner would want to read.

Apologising in a formal letter

Usually, the apologising content idea will be part of a personal letter. It is rare for a Task to tell you to apologise in a formal letter. Occasionally, there might be a Task where you write a formal letter to someone in authority (such as a principal or supervisor) to apologise for a misunderstanding or a mistake you have made. If this happens in your exam, the best phrases to use for formal style apologies are:

‘Please accept my apologies for this mistake/this accident/this misunderstanding.’
‘I can only apologise for this event/this confusion/ this oversight.’
‘Please accept my apologies for this whole event, and I assure you that such a misunderstanding will not happen again.’
‘On behalf of everyone concerned, I would like to offer apologies for this confusion, and assure you that we will be more careful in future.’
(‘On behalf of’ = I am speaking for the group of people.)
In formal apologies, don’t use the words ‘forgive me,’ ‘sorry’ or ‘say sorry.’ The accepted formal style is ‘my apologies/to apologise.’

Remember that formal letters should keep emotions to a minimum. For example, the letter in this last example said ‘I feel terrible about it too’ which is fine in a personal letter, but too emotional for a formal letter. In formal writing, you would need to write ‘I deeply regret the inconvenience this has caused you’ or ‘I was very concerned when I realised that our misunderstanding caused you such inconvenience.’

This concludes our first ten model letters. We have introduced the best ways to write these letters,and explained how to get the best possible score in your IELTS GT exam.

Our next two tasks are intended for you to use for practice. For each Task, spend a few minutes analysing the recipient, style and content in the way we explained, and make some notes about the
content and your ideas for the details. Spend no more than 5 minutes doing this. Then try to write your letter in about 10 minutes, aiming for about 200 words. Finally, spend about 5 minutes checking your letter for mistakes.

If you can create your Task 1 letter in these 20 minutes in the exam, you will have the necessary 40 minutes left to do the Task 2 essay.

When you have finished your practice letter, compare it to our explanation and model letter for the

Task (which is on the following page.) The details of your content will be different from ours, of course, but the content ideas (complaining, requesting, explaining/apologising, suggesting) should be the same, and you should have the same choice of style.