Written and oral styles of English
The main principles
From formal style to informal style - what are the rules or principles ?
In any language, different styles of expression are appropriate in different situations. We can go from the formal to the informal, the written to the spoken, from technical language (or jargon) to slang. Generally speaking writing styles tend to be more formal than the styles of spoken English, though both reach from the formal to the informal.
Principles of English style:
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- a) The more formal a document is, the more it will use inanimate nouns (i.e. things, processes, ideas, rather than people) as the subjects of sentences.
- b) The more formal language is, the more frequently passive structures will be used.
- c) The more formal language is, the more verbal nouns (i.e. nouns like development or creation ) it will usewill be used.
- d) The more formal a document is, the more words of Latin origin it will use. Examples: residence, contemplate
- a) The more informal or spontaneous language is, the more it will use humans as the subjects of sentences.
- b) The more informal a text is, the less it will use passive structures,
- c) The more informal a text is, the more it will use verb structures where a choice is possible (i.e. develop or create) instead of verbal nouns.
- b) The more informal or spoken a text is, the more words of Germanic origin it will use. Example home, think.
Here are some examples; in each case, the same idea is expressed using three different levels of formality: look at the different changes that occur, as we move from a formal style to an informal one
From formal to informal, written to spoken English
The president was obliged to return earlier than planned due to poor weather conditions.
The president had to go back sooner than planned because the weather was so bad.
Please wait for instructions before sending items off.
Don't send anything off until you're told to.
One should undertake any necessary measures as soon as possible.
You should do whatever you have to as soon as you can.
Before America was discovered, potatoes were not eaten in Europe.
Before they discovered America, Europeans didn't eat potatoes.
Basically, that's it! The four examples above should be crystal clear. What could be simpler !
Written and spoken versions of a language use different styles, different registers. To talk in "written English" may be no more appropriate than to write using a "spoken" variety of English. Generally speaking, written English is always more formal than spoken English. nevertheless, there are informal forms of written English (notably in fiction and in the popular press), and formal styles of spoken English, in particular "discourse", or prepared speech.
Written style can also be affected by the length of sentences used, the length of paragraphs, and other features of punctuation.
Examples of writing and spoken stylesThe same idea expressed in six different styles:
In order to demonstrate a full range of styles using a single "message", it is necessary to choose a subject or topic which people actually write or talk about in a whole range of contexts. These examples show the different styles, from the very formal to the informal, that could be used for expressing a message about government fiscal policy (or, to put it less formally, government tax policy). Different parts of the message are colour-coded: see how they change from one style to the next. Note that the British currency is formally known as "Sterling", and most often spoken about as "the Pound".
This is the style of language used in official reports, technical studies, etc. It is exclusively a style of written English, full of verbal nouns, technical words and passives.
This is clear, written English, as found in the "quality" press or in documents - even on technical subjects - aimed at ordinary educated readers. Good literary style is also formal and clear.
This is classic English written style, as found in books, popular newspapers, and magazines for the general public. It is the style of formal discourse – discourse being spoken English from a written or "scripted" text.
There is plenty of use of prepositional verbs. All actions are now expressed through verbs, not verbal nouns
Note the addition of repetition and fillers.
Example 2:This sentence is expressed only in formal writing style (level a) and in an informal spoken style (level e)
Style practice exercise:
Attempt to rephrase the message of example 2 in one or two intermediate styles.Return to English Grammar index