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"Formal style" vs "informal style"


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"Formal style" vs "informal style" #1 (permalink) Sat Nov 22, 2003 17:43 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Hello,

first of all, I'd like to thank you for this website - it's great!

Well, I'd be VERY grateful if you could help me with this problem:

I know that when I'm writing to a friend, I should use contractions, phrasal verbs, etc, simply an informal style, and when I'm writing a report, complaint and things like these, I should be formal.

But I've lately met a Londoner who told me that it's no disaster to write "I'm" or "I've" in a formal letter.

So, would you be so kind as to explain WHAT exactly the "formal" and "informal" style means, when I can use contractions and rather informal constructions - and mainly: WHAT would be absolutely UNACCEPTABLE in a formal letter?

Thank you very much!!!
Jana :o))
Jana
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Joined: 22 Nov 2003
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Formal and/or informal style #2 (permalink) Sat Nov 22, 2003 19:43 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Dear Jana,

As you know we we do not have to follow the rules of grammar in everyday conversation as carefully as we would in a formal address or a business letter.
But then again there are quite a number of factors that determine the kind of language we use in a particular context.

For example, you can communicate with a business partner via email and you will address them as 'Dear Michael' and you certainly will use contractions whereas you will have to use 'Dear Sirs and Madams' in your letter of application for a new job.

There is a lot more to this question of course and I'm sure Alan will answer it too.

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Formal and/or informal style #3 (permalink) Sat Nov 22, 2003 20:20 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Hi Jana,

More good questions - but then I asked for them! The business of formal and informal is very much a personal matter. I could give you loads of examples but that probably wouldn't help because it depends very much on the situation and your relationship with the person to whom you're writing. Probably contractions like the ones I'm using now would work in one context and not in another. I think the best advice is to imagine you are talking face to face with your correspondent and write in that fashion.

All I can say is that informality is more the fashion than it was some years ago and the very existence of emails has helped to bring this about.
If you want to get some idea of styles in letters try and get hold of some English language newspapers and have a look through the Letters section.

Best wishes
Alan
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Formal and/or informal style #4 (permalink) Sat Nov 22, 2003 20:23 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Ahem, I'm not familiar with this website yet - actually, I'm not sure where this message will appear, but let's hope this will work :o)))

Torsten, thanks for your help :o))

Jana
Jana
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Joined: 22 Nov 2003
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Formal and/or informal style #5 (permalink) Sat Nov 22, 2003 20:28 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Thanks to Alan, too!!!

Fine, I'll remember what you advised me :o)

Jana
Jana
I'm new here and I like it ;-)


Joined: 22 Nov 2003
Posts: 11

Formal and/or informal style #6 (permalink) Tue Nov 25, 2003 15:10 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Jana wrote:
Thanks to Alan, too!!!

Fine, I'll remember what you advised me :o)

Jana


I would agree with Alan.

But I want to be a polite person and I want to write polite letters and so I think I remember the piece of advice of my teachers the last three month. They all nativspeekers (one Scotish, one Irish and one from America). They all said never to use "I've" and "You're" in letters. We had to use "I have" and "You are". That would be politer and a better style in writing English.

They said that "I've" and "You're" in letters is not wrong but not the best way to do it.

Hope I could help you a little bit.

Best regards
:twisted: teufelchen53

P.S.:
Thank you to Alan for calling my attantion to a little "German" mistake.

I wrote:
I would be polite and I would write polite letters ......

better and more English is:
I want to be polite and I want to write polite letters ......

I corrected my mistake. Thank you. :)

:twisted: teufelchen
Teufelchen53
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Formal and/or informal style #7 (permalink) Sat Jun 21, 2008 22:47 pm   Formal and/or informal style
 

Hi everyone! writing is a tough task to do to me and i'd like to know how to read a complaint letter..Anybody could give me a few tips???. Thanksssssssss. Silvina
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"Formal style" vs "informal style" #8 (permalink) Sat Jun 21, 2008 23:39 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Quote:
They all said never to use "I've" and "You're" in letters.


Did they say which type of letters? How about letters to your "mum" or a very close friend? No contractions there? Ask your teachers.

Quote:
They said that "I've" and "You're" in letters is not wrong but not the best way to do it.


Ask your teachers which kinds of letters they are referring to. If they tell you they mean ALL types of letter, find new teachers.
Molly
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Joined: 12 Feb 2008
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"Formal style" vs "informal style" #9 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:01 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Jana, based on your name (and your picture), I assume you're probably from a Slavic country. It's important to realize that in English we are not as sensitive to the level of formality used in a text as people are in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc. Also, the level of formality that Slavic speakers would use in a business report or job interview would be quite outrageous in English. One of my friends failed a translator certification exam partly because he retained the formality of the Russian original in his English translation. The level of formality in a typical Slovak business letter, for example, would be quite wrong for the English-speaking world.

As for when to use contractions and phrasal verbs, the situation is not as clear as "use them or don't use them". Some contractions and phrasal verbs are acceptable in formal language and some are not.

Contractions

Contractions like gonna, wanna, ain't, woulda, coulda, shoulda are usually not acceptable in writing. Generally, they're used in comics or other texts at that level.

Contractions like it'll, would've, could've, might've, that'll can be used in informal writing to friends, but they're not usually found in a newspaper, for example.

Contractions like won't, can't, don't, doesn't can be used in almost any text, even formal ones, if they sound right. Remember that sometimes the full forms, such as will not, cannot, do not, does not, may sound arrogant or angry, and sometimes they are too emphatic.

Phrasal verbs

There are a lot of phrasal verbs that are perfectly fine in formal writing. One of them would be take up, which can sound quite formal. We can say, "We will now take up the matter of next year's budget," or even, "He took up his knife and defended himself." Both of those sound formal. Very many other phrasal verbs are acceptable in formal writing.

Keep in mind also that sometimes we have to use a certain phrasal verb because there is no other word that expresses the right idea. Another matter is that in order to replace a phrasal verb, the only other alternative may be a long word from Latin or Greek. Any English -- formal or informal -- that contains no phrasal verbs at all, and replaces all of them with Latinisms, will sound comical to native speakers.

There's no real rule about when you can or can't use contractions or phrasal verbs. The only way to understand when to use them is to look at a lot of writing at different levels of formality.
Jamie (K)
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"Formal style" vs "informal style" #10 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:27 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Quote:
The level of formality in a typical Slovak business letter, for example, would be quite wrong for the English-speaking world.


Wrong in which English-speaking countries?
Molly
I'm a Communicator ;-)


Joined: 12 Feb 2008
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"Formal style" vs "informal style" #11 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:30 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Molly wrote:
Quote:
The level of formality in a typical Slovak business letter, for example, would be quite wrong for the English-speaking world.


Wrong in which English-speaking countries?

Do you understand Slovak?
Jamie (K)
I'm a Communicator ;-)


Joined: 24 Feb 2006
Posts: 6761
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA

"Formal style" vs "informal style" #12 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:44 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Contractions like won't, can't, don't, doesn't can be used in almost any text, even formal ones, if they sound right.

I agree with Jamie there, and the Corpus of American English bears him out. The most common negative collocation in American newspapers seems to be "don't" (search "do n't"):

DO N'T 960.80 (per 1 million words)
DID N'T 473.22
CA N'T 342.68
DOES N'T 334.90
IS N'T 189.67
WAS N'T 188.05
WO N'T 177.19
COULD N'T 143.19
WOULD N'T 128.63
ARE N'T 113.59
HAS N'T 81.80
HAVE N'T 80.32
WERE N'T 60.20
SHOULD N'T 38.93
HAD N'T 38.76
AI N'T 12.87
NEED N'T 2.14
MUST N'T 0.52
Molly
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Joined: 12 Feb 2008
Posts: 4017

"Formal style" vs "informal style" #13 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:46 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Jamie (K) wrote:
Wrong in which English-speaking countries?

Do you understand Slovak?[/quote]

No, I don't. Are you saying that the formal level required in "a typical Slovak business letter" is "quite wrong" in all English-speaking countries?
Molly
I'm a Communicator ;-)


Joined: 12 Feb 2008
Posts: 4017

"Formal style" vs "informal style" #14 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 21:51 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Molly wrote:
No, I don't. Are you saying that the formal level required in "a typical Slovak business letter" is "quite wrong" in all English-speaking countries?

Are you familiar with the rhetorical style I'm referring to?
Jamie (K)
I'm a Communicator ;-)


Joined: 24 Feb 2006
Posts: 6761
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA

"Formal style" vs "informal style" #15 (permalink) Sun Jun 22, 2008 22:08 pm   "Formal style" vs "informal style"
 

Quote:
Are you familiar with the rhetorical style I'm referring to?


No. Are you saying that that rhetorical stye is "quite wrong" in all English-speaking countries? If so, can you give us an example of such?
Molly
I'm a Communicator ;-)


Joined: 12 Feb 2008
Posts: 4017

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