Written and oral styles of English
Language and Style
From formal style to informal style - how are they different ?
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.
Principles of English style:Note: these are principles: they are by no means to be considered as "rules".
- 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 it is likely to use passive structures.
- c) The more formal language is, the more verbal nouns (i.e. nouns like development or creation ) it will use.
- d) The more formal a document is, the more words of Latin origin it will use.
- 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.
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 at the earliest opportunity.
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.
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.
The same idea expressed in six different styles:
In the following examples, the same message is expressed in six different styles, from an extremely formal written style, to a very informal spoken style. Note in particular how the colour coded word groups evolve.
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.
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.
Students: try rephrasing this sentence in at least two less formal styles:Return to English Grammar index