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Style -Tasks

Task 1

Read the three versions of the same basic message below, all three informing motorists of parking fees.

a) Please use 50p pieces only. The meter accepts no other coin.

b) Visitors are respectfully informed that the coin required for the meter is 50p; no other coin
is acceptable.

c) 50p pieces only


a) Arrange them in order from the most to the least formal.
b) What features of language make b) more formal than the other two? Be specific.
c) Where are you likely to find version b), and version c)?


a) Visitors are respectfully informed that the coin required for the meter is a 50p; no other
coin is acceptable. (most formal)
Please use 50p pieces only. The meter accepts no other coin.
50p pieces only (least formal)

b) The long message is overly detailed; it includes the word respectfully, which signals
politeness; and it has two passive verb forms: is informed and (is) required

c) Both the formal and the informal message can in fact be found anywhere, but the formal
version is more likely on an official site, where the owner has taken the trouble to have a
proper sign prepared. The short informal version could be a note scribbled down, or the text
on the actual meter, where there is no space for the long message.

Task 2

Consider the five sets of synonyms (words with roughly the same meaning) below. Which is the neutral member of each set, which is formal and which is colloquial?
Infant and offspring mean about the same, but they would be used in different contexts. Suggest natural situations/texts for both.

child, kid, infant, offspring
daddy, male parent/ancestor, father,
retire/withdraw, leave/go away, be off/get out/get away/get lost
proceed, continue, go on/carry on
begin/start, get going/get started/come on!, commence


Child (neutral), kid (informal), infant (formal),
(the word offspring
is also formal and is more common in academic/scientific contexts)
(neutral), daddy (informal), male parent/ancestor (formal)
leave/go away
(neutral), be off/get out/get away/get lost (informal), retire/withdraw (formal)
(neutral), go on/carry on (informal), proceed (formal)
(neutral), get going/get started/come on! (informal), commence (formal)

Task 3

Phrasal verbs such as look at, find out, search for, run into are conventionally supposed to be replaced by single-word verbs with roughly the same meaning in more formal and academic English. This advice should not be taken to its extreme, though, since two-word phrasal verbs also occur in more formal styles.
Choose a suitable single-word verb from the list below to replace the phrasal verbs in sentences 1-7:

investigate, assist, raise, discover, establish, increase, eliminate

1 System analysts can help out managers in many different ways.
2 This programme was set up to improve access to medical care.
3 Medical research expenditure has gone up to nearly $350 million.
4 Researchers have found out that this drug has serious side effects.
5 Exercise alone will not get rid of medical problems related to blood pressure.
6 Researchers have been looking into this problem for 15 years now.
7 This issue was brought up during the discussion yesterday.

  1. System analysts can assist managers in many different ways.
  2. This programme was established to improve access to medical care.
  3. Medical research expenditure has increased to nearly $350 million.
  4. Researchers have discovered that this drug has serious side effects.
  5. Exercise alone will not eliminate medical problems related to blood pressure.
  6. Researchers have been investigating this problem for 15 years now.
  7. This issue was raised during the discussion yesterday.

Task 4 (fairly advanced)

Based on material at:
Read the four extracts below and describe their styles. Give specific examples from all four which are characteristic of their styles. You should consider both choice of words and grammatical construction.

An alien who is living in this country under a visa permitting permanent residence or who has filed with the proper Federal immigration authorities a declaration of intention to become a citizen has the same privilege of qualifying for resident status for fee purposes under this Act as has a citizen of the United States. A resident alien residing in a junior college district located immediately to Texas boundary lines shall be charged the resident tuition by that junior college.

Sometimes I think I’m lucky to be alive. I can’t help enjoying really simple things because all the time I’m telling myself that I could be dead instead. Once, for instance I could have died on the motorway. I had spent Christmas with my parents and had to go back to university. Dad took me to the railway station and as he shook my hand a yellow Ford turned up. It was my best friend Paul, who offered to drive me back to university because he had a day off. I accepted. But it was to be a terrible drive.

One morning Betty went to the chicken yard. She was going to get the eggs. A chicken was on one of the nests. The chicken made a funny noise. Betty could not take the eggs. Betty said: “I know you have eggs in the nest. I will go away. You will have some little chickens.” Betty went to the nest every day. She would take things for the chicken to eat. She gave the chicken water, too.


This study is organised into six parts. The following section begins by considering the nature of scientific and medical language, and what makes it distinct from other “styles” of language. The examples used for illustration form the basis for the ensuing discussion of the possibility of describing and distinguishing different types of texts. Also included in this section is a presentation of the different views related to the application of genre research. A summary of previous studies of the medial research article is also presented.


The first text is formal. Its field (= what it is about) has to do with the rules that must be satisfied for a student at a Texas University to qualify for cheap tuition fees. Many of its language features belong to a variety of English called ‘legalese’, a negative term which people associate with a heavy and convoluted style.

  • It has very long sentences with many sub-clauses, many of which have no verb that shows tense, cf. a resident alien residing in a junior college district located immediately… in simple language this means: ‘an out-of-state person who lives in a junior college which is near to the Texas boundary…’
  • It contains difficult and field-specific words and phrases: alien, declaration of intention, residing, filed… a declaration of intention…etc. Federal immigration authorities.
  • It has the modal shall in shall be charged, which is typical of legal English.
  • It has a passive in shall be charged.
  • It has nominal phrases like privilege of qualifying for resident status, which in simpler language means: ‘may get the status as a resident…’

The second text is written in an informal style.

  • There are no difficult words.
  • Its sentences are on the whole much shorter than in text 1.
  • It has the informal form Dad.
  • It uses contracted forms: cf. I’m…, can’t help…, I’m telling.
  • It has active sentences with verbs that show tense.
  • It has an informal phrasal verb turned up.

This text is rather special. It has the very simple, choppy style of texts in reading materials for beginners.

  • The sentences are very short.
  • They are all simple sentences, i.e. no combinations of clauses. This makes it feel repetitive.
  • The vocabulary is extremely simple, all belonging to the concrete world which children understand.
  • It does not use contracted forms, probably in order to make the text easy to read.

This text also belongs to the formal register. Its field is the type of language used in medical and scientific research.

  • It contains some fairly formal, field-specific words/phrases; ensuing…, application of genre research
  • It has many clauses from which the forms that show tense are omitted (!): the examples (which are) used for illustration, different views (which are) related…
  • It uses passive forms fairly consistently: is organised, also included…is .., is also presented…
  • It demotes (= hides) the doer of actions and instead uses impersonal constructions where the verbs do not have personal subjects: the following section begins by considering…, the ensuing discussion of the possibility of describing and distinguishing…, a presentation of …
  • It contains signals in the text that tell us how it is organised. organised into six part, ..begins by…also included is…, a summary is also presented.
  • It even has a case of fairly formal word order with the verb in front of the subject: also included in this section is a presentation of… This is a feature of formal or literary language.

Task 5 (Advanced)

The content of the two extracts below is roughly the same, but their styles differ. Which one is the more formal? Refer to specific features of language (grammar and vocabulary) in version 1 that you consider more formal than the alternatives used in version 2.

Version 1

A new form of lie detector – the Dektor psychological stress analyser (PSA) - which works by voice analysis and which can be used without a subject’s knowledge has been introduced in Britain. Its employment is already widespread in private industry, and is now being tested by the police, but some of its applications raise serious worries about possible abuses. Philip Hicks, assistant manager of Burns’ Electronic Division, the Burns official trained to use PSA says that the unit could be used for pre-employment checks, emphasising that the device shows only stress, not dishonesty. Three steps are suggested to overcome this difficulty. First, the person being analysed is supposed to see all the questions in advance. Second, there are some neutral questions which are meant to set the person at ease, and third, if the subject shows stress on a vital question, then additional follow-up questions must be asked to ensure that mere coincidence is ruled out.

Version 2

Britain has now got a new form of lie detector. It’s a psychological stress analyser called Dektor and it works on your voice even if you don’t know that your voice is being analysed. Private industry already uses it a lot and the police are considering testing it out. People are worried that it may be abused sometimes. Philip Hicks, who is assistant manager of Burns’ Electronic Division, is the official that is trained by Burns to use PSA, and he says that they can use the unit to screen people before they are offered jobs. But he makes it clear that the device shows only if people are stressed not if they’re being dishonest. They suggest three ways to rule out dishonesty. You’re allowed to see all the questions before the test. Some questions are there to set you at ease and if you show signs of stress, there will be extra questions to rule out mere chance.

Material based on ‘Lie Detector’ in Michael Swan, Inside Meaning, CUP, 1988.


The second text is neutral/informal and easy to read.

  • It relies on the personal pronoun you, and the noun people as the subject in many sentences.
  • The other text is formal and impersonal. Many sentences have passive verb forms, so we do not get to know who carries out the actions expressed in the verbs, cf. can be used…, without the subject’s knowledge…, three steps are suggested…, questions which are meant to…..must be asked…
  • The formal text has nominal constructions which hide the doer of actions. Its employment is already widespread.., some of its applications raise…, pre-employment checks…
  • For a case in point compare the formal: some of its applications raise serious worries
  • about possible abuses with the neutral: people are worried that it may be abused
  • sometimes… (admittedly, this is in the passive, but it is still easy to read because we
  • have a subject like people and a tensed verb are worried…)
  • The informal text has contracted forms: It’s a…, you’re allowed…they’re… The formal text does not contain contracted forms.
  • The list of points at the end in text 1, First, …second, and third, are signals that are typical of more formal writing.
Last revised date 02/27/2018
Written by: Per Lysvåg

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