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TOPIC: Register: Formal vs. Informal English

Register: Formal vs. Informal English 3 years 11 months ago #7584

  • Chuck OysterCafe
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Register: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Using English is not just a matter of memorizing a list of words and a bunch of grammar rules (as many teachers would have you believe); it is also about understanding language use in context (i.e. understanding pragmatics and register).

In this post we are going to look at some of the varying levels of formality one could use to suit different contexts.

Registers: A Brief Overview

High formal
You would use this register in very formal occasions, for example to address the Queen, to speak to a nation’s president, or when talking to a distinguished member of society.

1. Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. Thank you for joining us today.
2. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith. Thank you for your wonderful talk.

When you speak or write to your boss, a client, or a professor you would probably use this register. This register is often used to show respect to the person you are addressing. You can use formal register by using correct titles (e.g. Mr., Mrs., Dr.) and more polite greetings and salutations (e.g. Good afternoon…, It is an honor to meet you…, Thank you for your time…).

You will notice there is not a lot of difference between high formal and formal registers; however when using the formal register you might use more contractions and change to less formal language as your meeting progresses.

1. Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. Thank you for meeting with me.
2. It‘s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith. And thank you for such a wonderful talk.

This register is probably the most common register and is used in report writing, business meetings, and when meeting new people in social situations. When speaking, this register may include the use of slightly informal words and phrases as a way of building rapport with people, or as a way of making communication more relaxed. Steve Jobs often used a neutral register during his presentations.

With the neutral register you will notice more contractions and conjunctions (e.g. and, but, if) being used. You might also notice first names are used more often than family names.

1. Hi John/Mr. Smith. Thanks for meeting with me. What a fantastic day.
2. It‘s great to meet you, John/Mr. Smith. Thanks for giving such a wonderful talk.

People generally use an informal register when you communicate with friends, family members, or people you are close to. With this register people often use more informal language, have lazier pronunciation (e.g. gonna, wanna), and use structures often associated with descriptive grammar.

1. Smithy. How’ve ya been? Not seen you in a while.
2. It‘s great to see you, John. That talk was awesome! Well done, buddy.

Important Note
Communication is very rarely conducted in only one register. You might start off speaking to your boss and co-workers in a more formal register, but as you get more comfortable you might find yourself speaking in a more informal register.

Thinking Point: It is important to remember that the context of communication (i.e. who are you communicating with, where, and why) should dictate the style of language you use in any given situation.

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Last edit: by Chuck OysterCafe.
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