IELTS – Describing people – Conscientiousness
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, I’m making part 4 in a series of podcasts based on the five big personality traits. This was a series I started ages ago, but haven’t finished. I was reminded of these podcasts by a listener from France, thank you Alexandra for writing.
I’m making these podcasts because talking about people, describing people and personalities is something that candidates are often asked to do in IELTS speaking tests and these are good topics for you to show that you have mastered some advanced vocabulary. So as well as the main personality trait, I’m going to explore some words and phrases that you can use to describe someone who has this trait.
In the earlier podcasts in this series, I spoke about openness to experience, agreeableness and extraversion which leaves me with conscientiousness and neuroticism. Today, I’m going to focus on conscientiousness.
Conscientiousness is the quality of being a hard worker and taking your responsibilities seriously. The quality conscientiousness and the adjective form conscientious come from the word conscience. Your conscience is your moral sense. It’s that feeling of duty or obligation that most people have. If you have done something that you shouldn’t have, you might feel bad afterwards. We describe that feeling as having a guilty conscience.
If you are conscientious, you have a strong sense of duty and want to do your work well and thoroughly. So it doesn’t just mean someone who works hard. It means someone who works hard because they feel like it’s the right thing to do. Conscientious people take their work seriously and try to do it well.
When I looked at the descriptions of conscientiousness on the page about the personality trait, there is a lot of advanced vocabulary. I have selected eight items that are quite common and then there are a few bonus super advanced items that I’ll talk about very briefly. These super advanced adjectives are very formal and might confuse native speakers, though they are bound to impress an IELTS examiner if you can use them correctly.
A2 – Careful
Starting with the most common, at A2, a conscientious person is careful. If you are careful, you do things with a lot of care. You take care. The verb care has two main uses. The first use is to care about something which means to love something or at least have strong enough feelings that you want it to be OK. So if you care about a person, you want them to be happy and healthy. A conscientious person will normally care about their work. They will want the projects they are working on to be successful.
The other use is to take care of something. If you take care of something or someone, you look after them, usually because you love the thing or the person. I try hard to take care of my children and my pets. I take care of them because I care about them.
If you are careful, you are acting in a way that shows you care about what you are doing. You have to be careful if you are doing something dangerous. I am quite nervous about electricity so if I have to fix a switch or a socket, I am really careful and make sure all the power is turned off first.
Sometimes, people who are very careful are also really slow. I had a colleague who was very careful when he was examining students and in a way, that was good, he showed that he was conscientious, but it took him ages and everybody else had to work longer because he was so careful. I think that managers might use the adjective careful to say something positive about a worker that’s a code for other managers that actually means something negative.
B1 – Dependable
The next adjective is B1; a conscientious person is dependable.
If someone is dependable then you can depend on them or depend upon them. This means that you can have confidence in them; you can believe that they will do what they say they are going to do. This is really important in jobs where there’s a lot of responsibility. If someone is dependable then you can trust that they will do their job well; you don’t have to worry about dependable people making mistakes. It’s very similar to reliable. If someone is reliable, they will do what they say. You can trust them. But there is a slight difference and I think it comes down to conscience. If a person is conscientious, they do their duty, they do their job and whatever else they have to do because they have a sense of obligation.
Dependable people are dependable because they care about what they are doing. The adjective reliable and the verb forms to rely on and to rely upon are very similar, but there is no sense of caring about what is being done. So my watch is reliable. It tells the time well and isn’t fast or slow and I have worked with people who are reliable because they are very focused on money. If they are asked to work, they will always do what they were asked because they want to earn money. They are reliable in that way. Reliable and dependable are both positive characteristics, but I would prefer people to think of me as dependable.
B2 – Self-discipline
The next item is B2. You can say that a conscientious person shows self-discipline. If a person has self-discipline or shows self discipline, then they can control their own behaviour and resist distractions or temptations and do their job or whatever they need to do. So if you are on a diet and trying to lose weight, you need self-discipline to resist eating tasty foods that are high in calories. I could use a bit more self-discipline. If a person is conscientious at work, then they will resist the temptations of distractions. If you are doing something that is not interesting, then it is easy to be distracted by funny things on the internet or news stories or social media. As mobile phones have games and TV on, self-discipline is more and more important.
B2 – Hard-working
The next B2 adjective that can be used to describe a conscientious person is hard-working. This can be written as two words connected with a hyphen or as one word. I think I always write the hyphenated version. A hard-working person is someone who works hard. I’m not sure why this adjective is B2; it seems quite straightforward to me. The most hard-working person I have ever met was a man called Vitaly from Macedonia. We paid him to help us clear some stones in our garden and he worked non-stop all day. At the end of the day, I tried to offer him more money for his work because he had worked so hard, but he refused to take any more than we had agreed in advance. He was very conscientious.
B2 – Thorough
A conscientious person can be described as thorough. If a person is thorough, they complete all of their work. They make sure every item is completed, every box is checked, every task is finished in a very careful way. The adjective thorough is often collocated with search. If the police need to search a house, if they look everywhere and check for hiding places then you could say that they did a thorough search. I don’t think it’s that commonly used on its own to describe a person. But if you are describing someone who is conscientious, you might say they are careful and thorough or hard-working and thorough.
B2 – Deliberate
There is one more B2 adjective that can be used to describe a conscientious person. A conscientious person is deliberate. The adjective deliberate is most commonly used in a different way, to say that something was done intentionally and not by accident. My children know that accidents are forgiven more quickly than deliberate attacks and sometimes accuse each other of doing naughty things deliberately or on purpose. The meaning of deliberate in relation to conscientiousness is similar, but is closer in meaning to careful. Someone who is deliberate acts in a very careful way. Their movements are controlled and precise. Often, deliberate movements are quite slow, but they don’t have to be. If someone is careful, we tend to think that they are afraid of something. You take care to avoid dangers. However, if someone is deliberate, they will still do things in a controlled way, but they might be quite confident about what they are doing.
C2 – Diligent
The next word is a C2 adjective. A conscientious person is diligent. The word diligent is a combination of careful, hard-working and responsible. A diligent person will finish their assigned tasks before they go home. I had to look up the difference between diligent and conscientious because they are so similar and according to the websites I looked at, a diligent person will finish their tasks at work because they want to finish while a conscientious person will finish because they are dedicated and want to do their job well. So diligent just means hard working and committed, it doesn’t include anything related to a person’s motivation. A conscientious person will be diligent because of their sense of duty or obligation.
C2 – Systematic
The next adjective is another C2 adjective, but this time it’s much easier to explain. A conscientious person will be systematic. If a person is systematic, they are organised and thorough. If you do something in a systematic way, you make a plan and follow it through carefully and complete each stage of the plan in the right order. You don’t rush or skip things. You are organised. If you have a complex job with lots of stages and things to remember, it is better to approach the job in a systematic way or you might make mistakes.
C2 – Meticulous
The last of the graded items that I want to talk about is meticulous. I like this word. If you are meticulous you pay attention to every detail. Everything has to be done perfectly. The adverb form is meticulously. You might hear someone say before a ceremony, the organisers meticulously planned every minute. If you describe someone as meticulous, it is a positive description. However, people who are meticulous are commonly criticised for focusing too closely on details. The negative description comes from Freudian psychoanalysis and the term is anal-retentive and is supposed to result from children whose parents are too strict when they are learning to use a toilet and who develop traits related to strong desires to control things. If there is something in your life that you try to control too much, you might say I’m a bit anal about it or if you are feeling more generous with yourself you might say I am meticulous about it. While the negative term comes from psychoanalysis, the common use is very informal and should probably not be used in an IELTS exam outside of discussions of Freud and psychology.
Super-advanced bonus adjectives
OK. Now I’m going to talk very briefly about four super advanced bonus adjectives. As I said at the beginning, these are not that common so save them for your exams. The first is fastidious. This is very similar to meticulous. It’s often used in the context of cleaning. Some people are scared of germs so they can be fastidious about cleaning.
The next bonus word is punctilious. This is like fastidious and meticulous, but it’s about rules and behaviour. I think that people in the military, when they are wearing their dress uniforms have to be punctilious about their appearance. All the buttons need to be polished and every part of the uniform has to be perfect.
The next adjective is sedulous and that means dedicated and diligent. I can’t remember ever hearing someone described as sedulous, but the adverb form is sometimes used. The host of the dinner party sedulously avoided any discussion of politics.
The last super advanced bonus word is assiduous. I think assiduous is a very close synonym to conscientious, but the focus of assiduous is on working hard whereas the focus of conscientious is the sense of duty or obligation. This is more common than sedulous but as with sedulously, the adverb form is more common. You could say that someone assiduously worked their way to the top of their profession.
OK – that’s a lot of vocabulary related to the fourth personality trait. Check out the page for this podcast on Learn English Vocabulary because you’ll be able to read the transcript of the podcast and also there will be an interactive language activity to help you remember the language I have focused on.
Thanks again Alexandra for reminding me to finish this series. I will return to the topic soon, but not immediately with the final trait, Neuroticism .
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Thanks for listening.
- Are you conscientious?
- Do you work hard?
- Are you motivated by a sense of duty or do you just want to get paid?
- Do you respect people who are really careful or do they wind you up?
- Is there anything that you are meticulous about?