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Formal written English (useful for CAE)

formal-vs-informal-attireIn today’s post I want to teach you how to switch from informal to formal English when writing.  This should prove especially useful for those of you who are sitting the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) soon as you might be asked to write a formal letter or proposal in the exam.

Vocabulary

                            Informal English                                                       Formal English

  1. room
  2. after (i.e. chat)
  3. chat
  4. worried
  5. need
  6. help / to help
  7. problems
  8. money
  9. good
  10. happy
  11. to fix a meeting
  12. to ask more information
  13. more
  14. very
  15. but
  16. if*
  17. tell
  18. about
  19. so
  20. put something off**
  21. get in touch with someone**
  22. want
  23. I can’t wait to
  24. I’m sorry to tell you
  25. give more info
  26. It would be great if you
  27. I’m sorry for
  1. accommodation
  2. following
  3. conversation
  4. concerned
  5. require
  6. assistance / to assist
  7. inconvenience
  8. funding
  9. convenient
  10. delighted / glad
  11. to arrange a meeting
  12. to enquire (the noun is enquiry)
  13. further
  14. rather
  15. although
  16. unless*
  17. inform
  18. regarding / concerning
  19. therefore
  20. postpone
  21. contact someone
  22. wish
  23. I am looking forward to
  24. I regret to inform you
  25. provide you with further information
  26. I would appreciate / be grateful if you
  27. I would like to apologise for /Please accept my apologies

* To replace ‘if’ with ‘unless’, the clause with ‘unless’ needs to be negative if the ‘if-clause’ is positive and the other way around:

If he doesn’t pay today, I’ll go to the police >> Unless he pays today, I will go to the police.

**If you can, avoid using phrasal verbs in formal writing as they always sound rather informal.

Grammar structures

                        Informal                                                                              Formal

  1. I’d (contractions)
  2. If you need more information
  3. If you offered me the job (active form)
  4. It will be great if you (1st conditional)
  1. I would (do not use contraction in formal writing)
  2. Should you need further information (inversion***)
  3. If I was offered the job (passive form)
  4. I would appreciate if you (2nd conditional)

Let’s focus on a language structure that might cause problems to students: the inversion.
As you see in sentence 2, with an inversion the subject (you) comes after the modal verb (should) and it is followed by a bare infinitive (need). Have a look at this other example:
If you want to get in touch, drop us an email (inf). >> Should you want to contact us, please send us an email (form).

Examples

Now have a look at these sentences and try to change them to make them sound more formal:

  1. Thanks for asking, I’d be very happy to give you more information about our project.
  2. I’m sorry for calling off our meeting at the very last minute.
  3. After our chat  earlier on the phone, it would be great if you …
  4. If you don’t give me more details, I won’t be able to help you.
  5. I can’t wait to see you to talk more about this.
  6. The receptionist gave us another room.
  7. Just let us know if tomorrow is not a good time for you to come around.
  8. I’m sorry to tell you that your project won’t get any money this year.
  9. If you want to meet, I’m free tomorrow.
  10. I’m getting in touch with you because I’d like to get more info about your English course,

Now check your work! Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Thank you for your enquiry, I would be delighted to provide you with further information regarding our project.
  2. Please accept my apologies for postponing our meeting at such short notice.
  3. Following our recent phone conversation, I would appreciate if you could…
  4. Unless you provide me with further information, I won’t be able to assist you.
  5. I am looking forward to meeting you to discuss this further.
  6. We were provided with different accommodation.
  7. Should tomorrow not be a convenient time for you to visit us, do not hesitate to let us know.
  8. I regret to inform you that your project will not receive any funding this year.
  9. Should you wish to arrange a meeting, I’m available tomorrow.
  10. I’m writing to you to enquire about your English course.

I hope you’ve learnt something new in this post and good luck if you’re preparing for CAE!
Talk soon 🙂
Deb

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Finding out new meanings #1: the verb to tell

B1 I want this to be the first post of a series that I’ll call “finding out new   meanings”: we’ll look at some common words and learn meanings that students do not immediately relate to these terms.

Today I want to focus on the verb ‘to tell’. In its most common usage, to tell simply means ‘to say something to someone’*. However, today I want to explore other meanings of the verb ‘to tell’.

TELL MEANING ‘TO SEE /UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE’

Have a look at these sentences:

  1. Mary and Lucy look so much alike that I can’t tell who is who.
  2. I’m really bad with languages, I can’t tell the difference between Spanish and Italian.

In both the above examples, ‘tell’ is used to express the inability to see / get the difference between two people / things.

TELL MEANING ‘TO UNDERSTAND or BE SURE’
  1. I can always tell when my boyfriend is lying.
  2. You can tell that she loves him.

In the first sentence, we use ‘tell’ to say that we’re able to understand something. However, bear in mind that you can’t simply replace ‘understand’ with ‘tell’:

  • I can understand English (CORRECT)
  • I can tell English (INCORRECT)
  • I couldn’t understand what he was saying (CORRECT)
  • I couldn’t tell what he was saying (CORRECT)

In the second example, ‘tell’ is used to say that something is clear / obvious: you can clearly see / It is obvious that she loves her.

TELL MEANING ‘TO RECOGNIZE’
  1. I couldn’t tell whether that was my friend Mark or not.

In this case the meaning of ‘tell’ is similar to that of the phrasal verb ‘to make out‘. ‘Make out something’ simply means to struggle to see/hear/understand something: it was dark so I couldn’t make out who he was.

If you wanted to use ‘tell’, the above sentence would change into it was dark so I couldn’t tell who he was.

In all these instances, ‘tell’ is used together with the modal verb ‘can’ to indicate the speaker’s inability to do something.

‘I COULDN’T TELL YOU!’

This is another common expression with the verb can + tell. It’s used when the speaker feels they are not in the position to provide you with some information. Look at this dialogue:

A: Excuse-me, do you know when the work will be finished?
B: I couldn’t tell you!

I hope you’ve found out something new about this word.
Talk soon,
Deb

*Notice that ‘to say’ has to be followed by the preposition ‘to’, this is not the case with ‘to tell’:

  • I told Anna I was going to be late >> to tell someone something;
  • I said I was going to be late >> to say something;
  • I said to Anna that I was going to be late >> to say to someone something;

So it’s not correct English if you say ‘I told to Anna I was going to be late’ or ‘ I told I was going to be late’ or ‘I said Anna etc.