Highlight: Formal or informal?

Although students may realise that English has various levels of formality in speaking, they may not know how to distinguish between them.

At least 13 factors determine the formality level (register), including:

  • Use of phrasal verbs
  • Use of idioms and slang
  • Verbs in active or passive voice
  • Use of rhetorical questions
  • Direct or indirect expression of feelings and emotions
and several more. Chapter 7 of Social English Power provides a full list, detailed explanations, illustrative dialogues and practice exercises.

Example: Guided practice in using phrasal verbs

This exercise, taken from Chapter 7, is intended to show how to use phrasal verbs to reduce the formality of conversational speech.

Cartoon of a man with a beaten-up face

With your partner, read the following dialogue three times. The second and third times, replace the CAPITALISED words and phrases with the phrasal verbs shown on the right (two choices are given for each one). (Don’t replace the phrases marked * — they are just for your information.)

BETTY Oh my goodness, Joshua, look at your face! You’re all black and blue.* What in the world happened to you?  
JOSHUA Well, it was last night. I’d just finished RELAXING with some friends outside the bus station, and some young guys APPROACHED and asked me for money. I said I didn’t have any, so they ATTACKED me, just like that.* chilling out/ hanging out
came up/ strolled up
set on/ laid into
BETTY Oh, that’s so shocking. What happened next? Did anyone call the police?  
JOSHUA Yes, thankfully someone MOVING PAST THE SCENE saw what was UNFOLDING and called them on his mobile. passing by/ going by
going on/ panning out
BETTY Mm, that’s a well-known trouble spot next to the bus station. I bet they ARRIVED pretty fast. showed up/ turned up
JOSHUA Not that fast, actually. You know, it was Saturday night; I reckon* they were pretty OCCUPIED with other calls. tied up/ taken up
BETTY Oh man, it really SCARES AND UPSETS me to see you all INJURED like that. You’ve got to be more careful in future. freaks out/ cuts up
beaten up/ bloodied up
JOSHUA You haven’t heard the best part yet. Those thugs* who ASSAULTED me, I’d already seen them STARING AT ME earlier in the games arcade. I think they saw me buying lots of tokens for the machines and put two and two together.* beat up/ ripped into
eyeing me up/ looking me over
BETTY You mean... you reckon they decided you must be rich, and decided to mug* you later on?  
JOSHUA Got it in one.* I’m sure it was a TRAP. set-up/ stitch-up
* black and blue: bruised and swollen
just like that: with no warning, immediately
reckon: think, expect
thug: violent attacker
put two and two together: make assumptions based on weak evidence
mug (verb): demand money from a stranger
got it in one: you guessed correctly first time