Formal and informal: Activity

working with register variation

The concept of register is about the idea of appropriate language, which is shaped by context. Thinking about context is a fundamental part of language analysis, and is a useful 'way in' to exploring language choices and meanings. 

Being able to vary your register is an important skill.

In this activity we will start by looking at two real letters. One of them is a personal letter and the other a business letter. You can download them, or read through them here:

Buongiorno Emma!

At last I put pen to paper and actually write an email to you!! A miracle!! Maybe not, but it’s not far from it, as I’m really lazy with writing emails to everyone so usually send postcards instead so I don’t have to write much! Still as lazy as ever!! I guess I’ll never change in that respect!!

Had another good day’s skiing but this time had the foresight to stick protective cream upon my face so didn’t get burnt but turned a golden brown - I do worship the sun as you know! Weather ’s been great these last few days so I ’m happy! What’s it like in good old England? I presume it’s similar to here : I can’t remember the last time I read a paper - I never have time these days! (not that I managed to read one that often in London!) Thus I don’t see the around the world weather reports.

How ’s Karen? Say hello to her for me! Is Joe still annoying everyone or has she learned to keep her big mouth shut? I ’m sure she’s not a Virgo - she’s nothing like me or anyone I know for that matter!! What a weirdo! What about Nigel - have you seen him recently? Is he still as tight as ever? Is he looking forward to his posting? God help Jakarta!! Don’t mean it really as you know only too well!! Seen anyone else I know? If not, then what the hell have you been doing?!! Nag, nag!! So what’s new then? Have you got any gossip? God, Emma, all these questions!

Well, that’s all the time I had to write you an email - but it’s not too short so you can’t complain!

Thanks again for getting all the stuff for me! “Arrivederci!”

Love from Jane xx

Miss E Smith-Jones

76 Ryder Road


SW14 0SF 

15th April 2016

Dear Miss Smith-Jones

Thank you for your recent enquiry. Another card has been ordered and will be sent out to you at the end of the month.

I regret that I am unable to change the date that the Personal Loan transfer goes through, so you will need to bear this in mind when you calculate the funds you have available to you.

I see that your statement is in fact dispatched to you in the middle of the month and it occurs to me that you might find it of assistance if this was changed to the beginning of the month. I have therefore altered the date of this in the hope it will be of some assistance.

Yours sincerely

BB MRS Assistant Manager (Accounting)


  • Identify differences in register between the two letters. Can you work out the audience of each? How?
  • Group these differences into word class categories and look for patterns.
  • How does each writer choose to begin a new paragraph or line? Can you think of any reasons why this might be the case?
  • Are certain functions of sentence (statements, questions, commands, exclamations) more apparent in one text than the other? Why might this be?
  • Study sentence construction and clause linking: are there any differences?
  • How are features such as discourse markers and structural devices used in the two texts?

Extension activities

  • How could you turn the first letter into a more formal letter to an older relative? Recreate the text for this new audience, and then choose 3 grammatical features of your new writing. What did you do, and why? Try to use grammatical terminology to explain and justify your choices.
  • If you were sending the first letter as a text message, how would you write it and why would you do it in that way?


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