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Everyday English 1
Everyday English 1

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2.2 Tone

In relation to language, tone is the mood or feel of something that is said or written. The formality of language affects the tone. As noted earlier, you usually speak formally and politely when answering the phone, when at work or when talking to someone you don’t know. But being overly formal can become rude in certain situations. Speaking too formally to a friend in the pub would be out of place and might be considered rude.

It’s usually quite easy to tell the difference between formal and informal language. Formal language often uses longer words, like ‘depart’ instead of ‘go’ and ‘commence’ instead of ‘begin’, and sometimes a less friendly tone – ‘We regret we cannot assist you’, not ‘I’m sorry I can’t help’.

Activity 15 Matching formal and informal

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

1. Match the informal word to the formal word that means the same.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. go down

  2. tell

  3. ask

  4. saw

  5. at the end

  6. go

  • a.report

  • b.finally

  • c.request

  • d.observed

  • e.descend

  • f.depart

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = e
  • 2 = a
  • 3 = c
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = b
  • 6 = f

2. Now identify the formal phrase in each of the following pairs. Drag the relevant phrase to ‘Formal’ or ‘Informal’.

Can you explain why one is formal and the other informal? Is there one word in each phrase that shows this?

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Could I have a coffee, please?

  2. Could you grab me a coffee?

  • a.Informal

  • b.Formal

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = a

Discussion

‘Please’ is often formal.

‘Grab’ is informal.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Morning, mate.

  2. Good morning, sir.

  • a.Formal

  • b.Informal

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = a

Discussion

‘Mate’ is informal.

‘Sir’ is formal.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Can I have a word?

  2. We need to discuss this further.

  • a.Informal

  • b.Formal

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = b

Discussion

‘Have a word’ is informal in this case.

‘Discuss further’ is more formal.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. I don’t feel so bad.

  2. I am well today.

  • a.Informal

  • b.Formal

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = b

Discussion

‘I am well’ is quite formal.

‘I don’t feel so bad’ is informal.

Usually it is obvious when language is formal or informal, but when speaking it is easy to slip into slang without really noticing, such as ‘oh my goodness’ rather than ‘that is surprising’.

Activity 16 Formal situations

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Think of situations in which you might have to speak quite formally. See how many you can note down below.

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Discussion

You may have thought of some of the following:

  • interviews
  • presentations
  • meetings
  • classes/lectures
  • work reviews
  • 1-1s.