Formal or informal?
Sometimes in the UK people greet each other with ‘all right?’ instead of hello or hi, but you have to say it quickly for it to sound right... it ends up sounding like ‘awwrite’ or something like that! It’s very colloquial though… I wouldn’t go saying this to your American business contacts, Yumi! :-)
Thanks for all your comments readers, I will try and answer some of them this weekend. I always enjoy reading them. Quite a few of you have asked me if I can tell you if you make any mistakes when you write your comments – this would be a bit tricky to do for everyone! I’ll try and answer all your specific questions though and point out any major errors :-)
Ah yes, before I continue – Myen noticed a mistake! When I was writing about Sanja’s question about the TOEFL exam I wrote that she wanted to know if she could use American English on the exam – of course she can! It’s an American exam! I meant to write, can she use British English on the TOEFL exam… oops. Sorry everyone! Hope you weren’t too flummoxed by this error!
So Yumi, you sound a bit worried about your business English skills! I’m sure they are much better than you think they are. You’ve asked some interesting questions. First let’s have a look at…
Formal vs informal language…
I think you’re right: English doesn’t have the same level of formal language that Japanese has, and in fact the use of English has become increasingly informal over the last few decades. Now there is a movement called the ‘Plain English’ campaign which says we should just keep things simple and not use lots of long sentences and jargon. In fact, many legal documents in the UK have been ‘translated’ from quite difficult-to-understand formal language into simpler, more straightforward language so that everyone can read and understand them.
It’s pretty funny how formal language seems to work in English though. You asked about the words would and could. Yes, you’re right, these are more often used in formal situations. Informally we would be more likely to use other phrases. As a general rule, the longer the sentence when making a request, the more formal it is. Have a look at these sentences:
Open the door.
Please open the door.
Could you please open the door.
Could you possibly open the door please.
Would you mind opening the door please.
Would you mind terribly opening the door please.
If you wouldn’t mind, please could you open the door.
If it’s not too much trouble, please could you open the door.
You see what I mean?! The sentences all say basically the same thing (they’re all requests to open the door – except for the first one which is more of an order). The level of formality increases with the number of words! It’s funny, isn’t it?!
I don’t know if you can say that ‘would’ and ‘could’ are more formal than ‘will’ and ‘can’ – in some cases I suppose they are but in others they are used differently. ‘Would’ and ‘could’ do feature in quite a lot of formal phrases though.
You can certainly say ’How do you do?’ when being introduced to someone. This is quite formal though, and some would say a little bit old-fashioned although that shouldn’t put you off. Nothing wrong with being a bit old-fashioned :-) ’How are you?’ is much less formal, followed by ’How’s it going?’ and then the very informal ’All right?’.
Using the verb ‘to prefer’
-I tend to use 'the' more often than 'a/an'.
-I prefer using 'the' to 'a/an'"
Should I use the word 'prefer'? To be honest, I am not very good at using the word 'prefer' - it was the word which I got in the quiz in high school, and I always made a mistake.
Both of your sentences are correct but they have different meanings. If you say ‘tend to’ it just means that it is what you normally do. However, if you say ‘prefer’ this means that you like using ‘the’ more than ‘a/an’. Both are grammatically correct – you just have to decide which meaning you want to convey.
You also asked:
-I prefer to drink orange juice rather than have orange itself.
-I prefer drinking orange juice to having orange itself.
In the sentences above, the reason I should use 'rather than' is, I said 'prefer to drink' so that 'to + verb' will cause repetition of 'to'?
Again, both these sentences are fine, except you’re missing the articles! You should have ‘an’ before orange in both cases. You’re absolutely right about dropping the second ‘to’ – this is quite common in English. In fact – that reminds me - Sevinc asked me a similar thing about a sentence I wrote about Gulmohar Park:
"Near our house are some beautiful parks, full of different kinds of trees." in this sentence; the subject of the sentence "Near our house" is it or not?. if so the verb "to be" should be is, isn't it! due to singular subject. but you use "are" which is used for plural subject.
Actually, in this sentence I have left out the word ‘there’ after ‘near our house’ –you can call this ‘ellipsis’, when you leave out a word so that it sounds ‘smoother’. ‘Near our house’ isn’t the subject of the sentence, that’s a separate prepositional phrase (I think! Agh!) – the subject is ‘there’ but it’s not actually written. I think this kind of ellipsis is more common when we speak but as it is a fairly informal blog, it’s okay! :-) So you see, this is a similar situation to leaving out the ‘to’ in Yumi’s sentence above.
To learn some more about formal business language why not have a look at the Talking Business page of the BBC website? There’s some really good stuff there.
Phew! This has been a bit of a heavy language session! I’ll leave talking about using the word ‘even’ until next time I think – hope you don’t mind. Ooh before I forget, the question I asked you in my last post: which phrasal verb can you use instead of ‘distribute’? Well, quite a few of our readers and Yumi had a good answer: ‘hand out’. Well done. You can also use the phrasal verb ‘give out’.
Okay, I’m off to cook dinner now. Noodles I think, yum!
In a while, crocodiles.
Definitions for you…
Whereas: this is used as a linker between two parts of a sentence to show contrast. It has a similar meaning to ‘although’ – more formal though!
To stick to something: to keep doing something
Consistently: without changing, doing something in the same way
To swap: to exchange one thing for another
To tend to be: to make the same choice about something more often than not
To be treated like a king: when people act towards you in a very nice way, giving you everything you need
…and a few new words too :-)
Movement check how it’s used here!
To put someone off
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