Register: degrees of formality
Register: degrees of formality
Formal and informal words
Some words are formal or informal, and others are quite neutral.
Is your partner (neutral) / other half (informal) not with you today? [husband/wife]
Rick's a really nice bloke/guy. [man; informal]
She is able to converse with everyone, which is a great gift. [have a conversation; formal]
Sometimes it is possible to arrange words into sets of neutral, formal and informal words.
the box / (the) telly
have a go/stab/bash/crack/shot at
Register is concerned with the overall tone of a text or conversation, and the relationship that is
built between the speaker and listener, or reader and writer. It is important to speak and write in
the appropriate register for the situation.
Speech and writing
Some words are more associated with either spoken or written language. It is worth noting if a word
has a particularly strong association with speech (S) or writing (W).
comment and example
Linking adverb: (in speech, more likely to be "later" or
"afterwards") e.g. The police found some important clues.
Subsequently, three people were arrested.
Linking expression: means "to sum up", e.g. In sum, we may
say that most, but not all, English adverbs end in -ly.
vague word: used when we cannot remember the name of a
person, e.g. I met whatsername at the party, you know, the
woman who works at the university.
vague word: used as a noun, of people and things whose
name one cannot remember, e.g. Give me that thingy there,
yes, that bottle opener.
discourse marker: used to bring attention to an important
point, e.g. He's a good actor. Mind you, he should be - he
went to the best drama college.
discourse marker: used to get people's attention when
you want to ask or tell them something, e.g. Now then, is
everybody's luggage here?
Some words and expressions may be correct, but may sound archaic (outdated) or old-fashioned,
e.g. asylum [hospital for the mentally ill], frock [dress], wireless [radio], consumption [tuberculosis/TB],
Make the underlined words in these sentences formal or informal, as instructed.
She works in a shop that sells women's clothes. (formal)
I"ve got some new spectacles. Do you like them? (informal)
Did you see that documentary about Wales on TV last night? (informal)
Gerry's a decent man. I wouldn't want to upset him. (informal)
I spent the morning talking with the Director. (formal)
Molly was there with her other half. He's a nice guy. (neutral; neutral)
Complete the table using the words from the box. Do not fill the shaded boxes.
Decide whether these words are more likely to be associated with everyday spoken or
everyday written English. Write S or W next to the word.
What do you think are the present-day equivalents of these now-outdated English words?
Use a dictionary if necessary.
Look at these text extracts and decide which register types you would classify them in.
Underline key words which help you decide the register. For example, if you think the
text is "written, formal, poetic and archaic", which word(s) make you think that?
Some register types: literary / poetic / non-literary
academic / non-academic
archaic / modern
technical / non-technical
spoken / written
formal / informal
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Sweetest love, I do not go,
For weariness of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A fitter love for me;
But since that I
Must die at last, "tis best,
To use myself in jest
Thus by feigned deaths to die.
Views are certainly divided on the answers to
the questions listed above; even whether it
matters that pluralism and different paradigms
reign in SLA is a matter of heated debate.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask
not what your country can do for
you - ask what you can do for your
country. My fellow citizens of the
world: ask not what America will
do for you, but what together we
can do for the freedom of man.
Mind you there was a
lot of rain in Germany
over Christmas wasn't
there, cos I saw the river
in Bonn on the news on
telly, the Rhine. Yeah,
the river in Bonn.