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.


                            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).


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 🙂


Useful English: Business Phrasal Verbs

Image I have recently been asked to teach some ‘Business English’ expressions that would make a non-native speaker sound a bit more like a native.

I’ve come up with a list of 10 phrasal verbs which I personally think should be part of your Everyday Business English.

When appropriate, I’ve decided to include another piece of information for each of these verbs: their collocations.

A collocation is two or more words that often go together: a nice pretty weather. Read more on collocations here and start getting into the habit of always looking up collocations when learning new vocabulary. It will help you make less mistakes and sound more natural!

1- TO CALL OFF (transitive)

I’m afraid we’ll have to call off tomorrow’s meeting.

‘to call something off’ means to cancel it.
Collocations: to call off a meeting / a class / a strike / a match

2- TO PUT OFF (transitive)

She decided to put off the meeting to next week. 

He decided to put off seeing Mary.

‘to put something off’ or ‘to put off doing something’ means to postpone it/doing it.*
Collocations: to put off a meeting / a phone call / an appointment

3- TO HEAR BACK FROM someone

I haven’t heard back from the client yet

‘to hear back from someone’ means to get someone’s feedback/reply about something

4 – TO COME UP (intransitive)

I’m sorry but I can’t attend the meeting tomorrow, something has come up.

if ‘something (usually a problem, situation or event) comes up’ it happens unexpectedly.
I’d say ‘something has come up’ is a particularly useful sentence when you don’t want  to commit to something one of your workmates wants you to and you haven’t got a real explanation. It’s vague enough but not dismissive! 🙂

5 –   TO LOOK INTO (transitive)

Could you please look into the possibility of relocating our business to China?

‘to look into something’ means to analyse it, to collect more information and facts about it.
I’ll look into it!‘ is a sentence that could come in handy when a colleague has just suggested to you something that you hadn’t previously thought about. It shows appreciation of their comment.

6 – TO PULL OUT of something (transitive)

The company has decided to pull out of the agreement.

‘to pull out of something (usually an activity or agreement)’ means to decide not to continue it.
Collocations: to pull out of an agreement / a bidding / a contract

7 – TO COME ALONG (intransitive)

How is the report coming along?

‘to come along’ means to make progress.

8 – TO SET ASIDE something (transitive)

A lot of resources should be put aside for this project.

‘to set something aside’ means to save something for a particular purpose.
Collocations: to put aside money / time / food

9 – TO GO OVER something (transitive)

Let’s go over the whole project again and see how it can be improved.

‘to go over something’ means to examine it very carefully.
Collocations: to go over a project / a report / a document / a contract

10 – TO STICK TO something (transitive)

Let’s stick to our initial plan!

‘to stick to something that you’ve decided’ means to continue doing it in the same way.
A common phrase usually heard in meetings is ‘let’s stick to the agenda!‘. Use this sentence when you feel that people have started talking about things not relevant to the meeting’s agenda.

I hope there will soon be a chance for you to use some of these phrasal verbs in a meeting!
Talk soon,
Deb 🙂

*Remember that after prepositions you always have to use the -ing form. That’s why we say to put off doing to do something.