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 🙂


Natural English: the suffix -ish

lovely-package-the-ish-watch2-ish‘ is definitively my favourite English suffix. I know what you’re thinking: ‘she must be a real grammar geek to have a favourite suffix’. You’re not wrong, I am indeed passionate about grammar 🙂

Anyway, I think that if you start getting into the habit of using ‘ish’ every now and then, your English will sound more natural. Here are some situations where you could use this suffix:

1- ish and numbers

What time shall we meet?


Used with numbers, -ish means ‘around‘. So not quite seven but around seven. The same is true when you talk about someone’s age: I think she’s fortyish but I’m not sure.

This is a good one if you don’t want to commit yourself too much and if you show up 20 minutes late, you could always say: ‘I said seven-ish not seven sharp!‘ and if you don’t want to say an exact time you can go for ‘I’ll be home soonish‘.

2- ish and adjectives

What does she look like?

She’s blondish.

Used with adjectives, -ish means ‘fairly’ or ‘slightly’. So she’s not super blond but she still falls into the category of blond. The same happens with colours: What colour is your dress? Bluish.

2- ish and nouns

What’s he like?

He’s childish and boring.

Meaning that he behaves like a child. So if someone has got a girlish face, their face looks like that of a young girl.

Bear in mind that in a formal context the use of the suffix ‘ish’ could sound too colloquial.

Talk soon!
Deb 🙂


Natural English: how to make requests when out and about

orange_squeezeOften people feel at a loss when being out and about* in London they need to ask something to the person next to them or a passer-by. Some students feel they can’t find the right words. Today’s post is about the kind of questions you might need to ask strangers when going around the city. The questions I came up with are deliberately more complex than the ones you’d usually learn at school and mostly used by British people.

‘To be out and about’ means to be out doing stuff, going to places etc


Context: you’re on the bus and you’ve just seen a spare seat but someone is sitting on the aisle seat. You could ask this person ‘Sorry, can I sit there?’ or ‘Sorry, can I squeeze in?’.

The idea behind the use of the verb ‘squeeze in’ is that you know that there isn’t enough room and this person will have to move a bit to let you sit there. You want to bother them the least, so you’ll try to squeeze in.


If ‘you’re done with something’ you don’t need that thing anymore.

Context: you’re on the tube and see someone placing the paper they’ve just read on a seat next to them, before grabbing it you might want to ask “sorry, are you done with that paper?”.


Context: you want to ask for directions / some information. For instance, you need to take money out and are looking for an ATM.
You could add to your question the expression ‘by any chance’ to show your being aware that the person you’re asking might not know the answer: “Sorry, by any chance do you know where I can find an ATM ?”.


Context: you’re at the pub and want to go to the toilet but you’re afraid someone will accidentally take your beer. You decide to ask the person next to you to keep an eye on it: “sorry, could you keep an eye on my beer while I go to the toilet?”

In this context ‘to keep an eye on something’ means to look after something, to make sure nothing bad will happen to it.


Context: still at the pub, you and your mate want to go out for a smoke but don’t want to lose your seats. You could ask the people next to you “Sorry, could you save us these seats while we go for a smoke?.

In this context, ‘to save someone their seat’ means to make sure nobody will take those seats while they’re gone.


If you borrow something, you ask the permission to use something for a period of time after which you’ll give it back.
Context: you’re outside the pub (your beer and seat are safe inside) and realise that you don’t have a lighter. You could ask someone “do you have a lighter” but how about “could I borrow your lighter?” since this is what you want to do.


This is another way to say ‘to get something and give it to someone’.
Context: still at the pub (you’re loving the British drinking culture! You’ll never leave this pub), you want to go out and need your coat. The pub is packed and your coat is out of reach because some strangers are now sitting where you initially put your coat. You could squeeze in or just ask them to give it to you: “Sorry mate, I don’t suppose you could fetch me that coat?”


‘I don’t suppose’ is an expression often used to make clear that you don’t want to bother the person you’re asking to do something. British people tend to assume they’re bothering everyone 🙂


Finally, you’ve had enough of London and want to take the train back to wherever you come from. You get on the train and your backpack is so heavy that you can’t lift it (all that shopping at Primark!) and want to ask someone to help you: “Sorry could you give me a hand with this backpack?”

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy your day out and about in London!:)

Talk soon,

p.s.= after rereading this post I’ve realised that most of what I assumed to be your day in London was spent in a pub 🙂


Natural English: More on Phrasal Verbs!

dog_head_out_window_funnyIt looks like my recent post on phrasal verbs got quite popular among students and so I decided to write another one. It’s difficult to learn phrasal verbs because most of the time it’s just a matter of learning them by heart. This is why today’s post is about two verbs that I’m sure are part of your everyday language : ‘to go’ and ‘to come’. Here are some phrasal verbs that are often used instead of ‘go’ and ‘come’.

to head out

To head out means to leave a place and go somewhere: ex. What time do we need to head out?
To head is followed by ‘for/to‘ when you add your destination: ex.We’re heading out for London in an hour.
To say ‘I’m heading out‘ you can also use ‘I’m on my way out’. 
To head (somewhere) can also be used without ‘out’:
a: Where are you?I’ve been waiting for you for more than two hours.
b: Sorry, I’m heading there now!  BUT I’m heading to/for the pub now.

to head back

If you head back you start going back to the place where you came from: ex. It’s late, I’m going to head back home in a bit

to pop out

To pop out means to go out from a building for a short time (British): ex. I’ll pop out to the shop at the corner to buy some bread.

to pop in / to drop by

If you pop in, you go somewhere for a short time and without much planning (British): ex. I’ll pop in tomorrow for a coffee 

to come over / to come around

To come over means to go and visit someone (usually at their place): ex. You should come over at some point this week

to be off

To be off has the same meaning as ‘to leave’ a place: ex. I’m late! I’d better be off now.

To put stuff in context, here’s a chat between two neighbours who bump into each other on the stairs.

a: Hi, where are you going?
b: I’m going out, I was gonna go to the shop to buy milk, what about you?
a: I’m going to work. Do you wanna come to my flat later tonight?
b: Yeah sure, mate, I have to go to my mum’s but I’ll come after that.
a: Cool, when you come back, could you buy some beers?
b:Yeah sure. I’ll text you when I come back so you know what time I’ll arrive at your flat.
a: Okay, it was nice to bump into you, I’m leaving, I’m late for work.
b: Yeah I should go too.

Here’s the same dialogue, replacing ‘go’ and ‘come’ with the phrasal verbs above. Doesn’t it sound more chatty?

a: Hi, where are you going?
b: I’m heading out, I was gonna pop out to the shop to buy milk, what are you up to*?
a: I’m on my way to work. Do you wanna pop in later tonight?
b: Yeah sure mate, I have to drop by my mum’s but I’ll come around after that.
a: Cool, on your way back could you buy some beers?
b:Yeah sure. I’ll text you when I start heading back so you know what time I’ll come over.
a: Okay, it was nice to bump into you, I’m off, I’m late for work.
b: Yeah I should make a move too. (to make a move= to leave a place and start going somewhere)

* Sorry I couldn’t help including another phrasal verb: ‘what are you up to?’ simple means ‘what are you doing?’


Informal English: How to Invite Someone Out

downloadStudents often complain that the way people speak in the street isn’t the same as the way they learn to do in class. So in this post I just tried to think what words and expressions I’d use to invite someone out. In the most natural/informal way possible..


Obviously you could go for the standard question Would you like to go to the cinema tonight?’. Nothing wrong with it, but how about trying one of these alternatives which sound a bit more ‘informal’?

  • FANCY+ING: do you fancy going to the cinema tonight?
  • FANCY + NOUN: (do you) fancy a movie tonight?
  • FEEL LIKE + ING: do you feel like going to the cinema tonight?
  • FEEL LIKE+ NOUN: do you feel like a movie tonight?
  • TO BE UP FOR + ING: are you up for going to the cinema tonight?
  • TO BE UP FOR + NOUN: are you up for a movie tonight?
  • WANNA + INFINITIVE (WITHOUT TO): wanna go the the cinema tonight?


A good way to start is always “I’d love to but..” what could come after this ‘but’? Well, what are your reasons?

  1. if you’re tired you could say “I’d love to but I’m shattered / knackered / dead (these are all synonyms of being exhausted), work was quite full-on (=intense) today“.
  2. if you’re busy you could say “I’d love to but I’m already booked (=use this if you want to sound snobby) / I can’t make it / it’s not going to happen as I’m meeting up with this other guy tonight
  3. if you’re sad you could say “I’d love to but I’m not in the mood / I don’t feel like it / I’m not really up for it”
  4. if you feel ill you could say “I’d love to but I’m feeling a bit under the weather “


  • “I’m not sure, I’ll give you a ring / bell later” >> to give someone a ring or bell = to phone someone
  • “Sorry I’m out and about now, can I call you back?” >> to be out and about = to be out of the house busy doing stuff
  • “Sorry I’m tied up now, can you ring me back?” >> to be tied up = to be busy doing something
  • “Not sure, I’ll text you later”


  • “Yeah, I’m up for it!” or even “Yeah, I’m 100% up for it!”
  • “That’s a plan!”
  • “I was going to suggest the same thing!”


  • “Yeah..whatever..I’ll come along”
  • “I’m not really into cinema but I don’t mind coming if you wanna go” >> not to mind (doing) something = something doesn’t get me excited but I’m not totally against it.
  • “That sounds like the most terrible idea ever” >> superlative + ever = ‘ever’ makes the superlative sounds even stronger: “the most terrible idea I’ve ever heard in my life or that anyone has ever heard

Enjoy your night out! 😉