Characteristics Of Formal And Informal Style

Descriptions of places can be written in a formal or informal style depending on whom they are addressed to and how the writer wants to present the description. For example, a descnption of a place you visited in a letter to a friend of yours would be informal, whereas a description of a place issued by the Tourist Authority in order to promote the place would be written in a formal style.

Formal style is characterised by an impersonal non-emotional way of expressing your ideas, frequent use of the passive, non-colloquial English and complex sentences. Short forms are acceptable only in quotes. Informal style is characterised by a personal, emotional and chatty way of expressing your ideas and use of colloquial English (idiomatic expressions), idioms and short forms.

Compare the examples: - The cottage, once inhabited by a famous poet, was built atop a steep, rocky hillside overlooking an idyllic landscape of lush fields divided by ancient dry stone walls, (formal) - My dad's cottage is out of this world as It's right on the top of a hill and looks down on gorgeous green fields which are split up by old dry stone waifs. (Informal)

15 Which of the following extracts is a formal description and which is an informal one? Whv? Where has each extract been taken from?

Corfe Castle

The medieval castle of Corfe is perched high on a hill overlooking the small community below. The ruins stand as a reminder of the English Civil Wars when the castle was dismantled by Parliamentary forces in 1646. Today, visitors are attracted by the opportunity to marvel at the splendours of a bygone age, and leave behind, for a moment, the cares of the modem world.


I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I realised Stonehenge isn't like it looks in the pictures. I mean, you imagine it being sort of lonely and isolated, but actually there are tourists everywhere. We couldn't go right up to it either because it's surrounded by a fence. Even so, it was pretty impressive. How those ancient people moved such huge stones is anybody's guess, but they certainly made an amazing structure! I felt tiny standing there.

//p Expressing Impressions & Reactions

/ • You can express positive impressions of a place by: * a using a variety of adjectives such as:

awe-inspiring, breathtaking, delightful, elaborate, eyecatching, exquisite, majestic, outstanding, overwhelming, picturesque, quaint, spellbinding, superb, tranquil, etc e.g. The castle, standing at the top of the mountain overlooking the city, is awe-inspiring.

b using a variety of present or past participles from such verbs as:

amaze, astonish, astound, Impress, inspire, overwhelm, refresh, stimulate, etc e.g. I was/felt astounded at how beauOful Florida is in winter.

... the astonishing image of children pushing rickshaws. c using a variety of nouns in expressions such as: to my amazementlastonishmentldelightlsurpriseletc e.g. To my delight, the place had kept Its character.

• You can express negative impressions of a place by: a using a variety of adjectives such as: barren, bleak, derelict, dilapidated, disreputable, inhospitable, neglected, squalid, etc e.g. The building was in a dilapidated state. b using a variety of present or past participles from such verbs as:

depress, disappoint, dismay, terrify, shock, etc e.g the disappointing view of the unsightly housing. c using a variety of nouns in expressions such as:

to my disappointment/surprise/etc e.g. To my disappointment, the once-tranquil village had turned into a crowded tourist resort.

16 Choose the most appropriate word from those given in brackets, and put it into the correct form to fill in the gaps in the following sentences.

e.g. Rio is a thrilling place to visit, with its riotous colours and raucous noise.


1 To the of most visitors, the caves in the area cannot be visited, as they have been declared unsafe, (disappoint/delight/impress)

2 Several old, traditional houses have been converted into quaint pensions which tourists find_. (horror/delight/depress)

3 Visitors are_during the trip up the steep mountain path, but the view makes it worthwhile. (puzzle/terrify/offend)

4 It is being spoiled.

to see how quickly the area where I grew up is (shock/excite/inspire)

5 The enormous ancient structures strike people as since even using modern equipment they would be difficult to construct.


17 Read the brief descriptions 1 and replace each of the undei words or phrases with the suitable word from the list givei

Description A

abandoned, bleak, cramped, miserable, run-down

The row of (1) empty hou along the bank of a stagnant Cc present a (2) sad picture. Wl lived in, they were (3) too srr filthy and in need of paint. Now tl are (4) old and broken, their v dows boarded over and fences s ging. The landscape in which tl stand is (5) empty and ugly; beh the canal and ruined houses stre flat fields with no trees or grass.

Description B

astonished, enormous, exquisite, imposing, tranquil Visitors to the cathedral are usi ly (6) surprised at the (7) impress elegance of its size and proportio The (8) very bjg stained-glass w dows with their (9) wonderful c< furies-old pictures flood the intei with soft light and colour, creatini (10) peaceful, quiet atmosphere.

Now replace each of the ten words have just used with its synonym i the following list.

astounded, bare, crowded, deserted, depressing, dilapidated, magnificent, massive, serene, superb

Useful Language: Explaining Impressions

J • Paris makes an immediatelenduring/lasting impression on all who visit it, since it is such a glamorous city.

What strikes/impresses/delights visitors about the resort most is its unique surroundings. The most noticeable/outstanding feature o/the palace is its golden dome. A huge statue of a lion is the first thing one notices upon entering the temple.

One cannot help but be impressed/moved/struck by the natural beauty of the region.

Without doubt, the most impressive thing about San Francisco is the

Golden Gate Bridge. The thing which makes the strongest!most enduring impression is the hospitality of the locals. I was immediately struck by the staggering number of huge skyscrapers. One particularly marvels/wonders at the variety of attractions offered. The first thing one notices about the house is its overgrown garden. The reason that the area is so depressing is that there are so many derelict buildings.

The filthy, congested streets confirmed my initial impression that it was an unpleasant city. Undoubtedly, the thing/feature that will disappoint any visitor is the lack of facilities.

18 Rewrite the sentences using the words in bold without changing the meaning.

1 When visiting Paris, one particularly marvels at the incredible architecture of the Pompidou Centre.

help e.g. when visiting Paris, one cannot help but marvel at the incredible ...

2 What impressed me most about the entire building was the lavishly-decorated reception hall.


3 The first thing that one notices about the city is that there are so many well-preserved medieval buildings.


4 Undoubtedly the thing that will impress you most about Sydney is the amazing Opera House.


5 What strikes visitors to Mykonos most is the perfect combination of glamour and tradition.


19 Read the extract below and replace the underlined words and phrases with phrases from the following list.

• take a particular delight in

• the thing which makes the strongest impression

• here one has the leisure to appreciate

• few visitors can fail to be charmed by

• furthermore, one cannot help but wonder at

• gives the impression of being

• hustle and bustle

• combines the spirit of a community with a well-deserved respect for nature

• paid them the compliment of

Describe a place in the countryside and explain why it is worth visiting.

Concerning Littlewood village itself, (t) what you notice is the hospitality of the locals. (2) Everyone enjoys the welcoming smiles and the genuine interest that the villagers show in anyone who has (3) bothered visiting their small community. It is as if they (4) really like sharing their charming village with outsiders.

(5) Also, anyone would like the natural beauty of the region. Sheltered from the outside world by tPfe hills which surround it, the village (6) seems untouched by the technological age and the (7) noisy hurry of modern towns. (8) You can enjoy the late afternoon sun glistening on the river or shining through the autumn leaves, and realise that this is a very special place.

(9) So, Littlewood (10) is a place with nice people and scenery. For anyone who wants to escape from the pressures of modern life for a while, it is well worth a visit.

20 Read the following description. Then, using the notes below, rewrite it in a formal style. Start like this. Toronto is a truly impressive city ...

Toronto is a really great city! There are so many places for you to see and things to do that you'll hardly have time to rest while you're there.

One of the things that will immediately impress you is the architecture of the buildings. It's definitely a sightseer's paradise. You can go up the CN Tower, which is one of the tallest build-

Ku be able to see the whole of Toronto. You can also visit the Casa¡Loma. which is iust like a fairy-tale castle. A millionaire built it at the of the cen-U^ty The Skydome te another place that you'll find amazing. It's an ultra mode n sportssLdll that has a roof that opens and closes, so matches or concerts don t have to be called off when it rains or snows!

NOTES: - impressive city - spectacular view of...

- an ideal place for those ... - resembling a castle

- impressive architecture - built at the turn of the century

- one place especially worth visiting ... - retractable roof

- visitors can enjoy dining ... - events are held all year round

• Certain techniques can be used to make your description more vivid.

You can start or end your description by:

• using your senses to describe the weather, surroundings, etc

• using direct speech

• asking a rhetorical question (a question which doesn't need an answer)

• creating mystery, suspense or anticipation

• addressing the reader directly

• describing people's feelings about or reactions to the place, building or monument

• using a quotation (e.g. As Ernest Hemingway once said, "Paris is a movable feast.")

21 Read the following paragraphs and identify the narrative techniques which have been used in each one.

1 "Yes, it's been empty for years," the man said as we stood outside the old one-room schoolhouse. Some of my earliest memories are associated with that place, and it seemed a shame that the big room no longer rang with the voices of happy children.

2 I shivered in the chill, damp air as entered the old one-room schoolhousi It smelt of mildew and dust, and I coul see stains on the walls where the rai had come through the roof. This abai doned place had once been the scene < lively lessons for twenty childre: including myself.

3 Standing outside the door of the aba doned one-room schoolhouse, I heard strange noise coming from inside. I kne it had been empty for years but I seem* to hear the sound of children's voici Holding my breath, I pushed the do open.

4 How many people have had t opportunity to be educated in an c one-room country schoolhouse? Wh I went back to visit my old school, whi is now no longer used, I suddei realised how lucky I had been, and wt an influence the place and its surrour ings had had on my life.

5 Everyone who went to the old one-ro< school in my village feels the same v about it. They all remember the ti they spent there as the best years of th lives, and I believe the place itself had influence on this feeling.

6 You may have attended a big, inner-« school with a library, labs, a gymnasi and all the facilities considered n essary for a good education. In t case, you cannot imagine what it is 1 to go to a tiny one-room school i rounded by green, rolling countrysid

7 Shakespeare's description of "the wl ing schoolboy ... creeping like a snai school" certainly does not apply to m my schooldays. I attended a one-rc country school and, as I remembe going there was always a pleasure. I tf this was partly due to the beauty quaintness of the place itself.

22 Write possible beginnings endings for a composition enti "The city I admire most."

23 Read the models and give the paragraph plan. Which of the models involves narration? How do these two models differ (paragraphs, tenses, style etc)? Where would you find these pieces of writing?

Model A

Describe a visit to a famous capital city you particularly enjoyed

I spent last weekend with my friend Leo in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Leo was anxious for me to join him for the St.Stephen's Day celebrations and I was only too glad to oblige.

After arriving at Ferihegy Airport, Leo took me on a whirlwind tour of the city so I could get my bearings. The sixteen mile journey from the airport to the city centre took us through Pest, the area situated to the east of the Danube River. We sped through streets of stunning Baroque architecture and past museums which I couldn't wait to visit. After crossing the river, via the Szecheny Chain Bridge, we entered Buda, which was officially joined together with Pest in 1873 to form the modern-day capital. I was delighted with the fantastic view of Buda Castle and the Citadel, sat atop the three hills which line the banks of the river. After I had been introduced to Leo's family, we went to explore the city together. We paused to admire Buda's cobbled-streets and Gothic architecture, and visited some museums before we went back home and enjoyed a typical Hungarian meal Leo's mother had carefully prepared for us.

The next day, I had the chance to explore Budapest more thoroughly. After a brief visit to the excellent Museum of Fine Art, I went to see the animals at Budapest Zoo before sampling some more delicious Hungarian cuisine for lunch at a lovely little restaurant. In the afternoon, I went back to Buda where I was amazed to discover that the castle houses not only the National Gallery, but also the National Library and Castle Museum too. That evening, however, was certainly the highlight of my trip. After a short nap, I returned, once more, to Buda Castle with Leo, where we watched the extravagant fireworks display held to celebrate St. Stephen's Day. I spent an interesting couple of days in Budapest and managed to soak up lot of Hungarian culture and history thanks to Leo and his captivating 'stories. Although I only spent a short time there, I feel I left Budapest with a Avid insight into Hungarian life.

Model B

Describe a famous capital city

Budapest, the Hungarian capital, is situated on the glorious Danube River in western Hungary. Before amalgamation in 1873, the site was home to two separate towns, Buda and Pest, located on either side of the river. The city's fascinating variety of architectural styles brings its long and turbulent history alive for the visitor, and because of this it is a fabulous location for a trip into the past.

Once you have arrived in the city centre from nearby Ferihegy Airport, take a tour round the entire city so you can find your bearings and get a taste of this fantastic city's atmosphere.Buda, which can be reached by means of the cheap and efficient underground train or the Szecheny Chain Bridge, is the oldest part of the city. First settled in the Middle Ages, its cobbled streets and Gothic houses are dominated by the recently-restored Buda Castle and the Citadel on their imposing hilltop sites. The castle is definitely worth visiting as it houses the National Library, the Castle Museum and the National Gallery. Across the river, in Pest, you will find stunning examples of Baroque architecture, and a number of fascinating museums. Impossible to miss is the Millennium Monument, a striking colonnade displaying statues of Hungarian kings and leaders, along with a huge statue of the archangel Gabriel surmounting a 188-foot-high central column.

But Budapest is not just a place to look at. There are excellent shopping facilities, a fascinating zoo, and plenty of theatres and concert halls offering fine performances. You can end your day by having a delicious meal in one of the many traditional restaurants, and if you are lucky enough to be in Budapest on St. Stephen's Day, you can witness the stunning fireworks display which is launched from the Citadel.

All in all, Budapest is a delightful city which embodies centuries of the Eastern European past. Its fascination is partly due to the Hungarians' resourcefulness, a quality necessary to ensure the survival of a city which has had to be rebuilt so many times. Budapest is well worth a visit at any time of the year.

Interpreting the topic

Various composition tasks ask you to describe a place, building or monument; however this description may be only one part of the composition. Composition tasks often ask you to describe a place, building or monument and to explain why you have chosen it, why it is important, etc.

In order to complete such a composition task successfully, you should interpret the instructions carefully and choose the aspects which are most relevant to the particular question.

e.g. "Describe a place you have recently visited and explain why you would like to visit the place again in the future. "

In answering this question, you should describe the place using narrative style. Past tenses are required. You should also give reasons why you would like to visit the place again, supporting them with justifications. Certain questions may ask you to compare and contrast two different places, buildings or monuments. Alternatively, you could be asked to describe the ways in which a place has changed over a period of time. e.g. "Describe two places you have been to on holiday which were very different from each other. Say which you liked better, gMng reasons for your choice."

This composition task requires a brief description of the two places, then a comparison of them using suitable linking words and expressions in order to explain the reason why you liked one more than the other. Remember to start each paragraph with a topic sentence which summarises what the paragraph is about.

25 Read the model below and give the paragraph plan. Then underline the topic sentences. What tenses have been used? Why? Finally look at the highlighted adjective-noun combinations, then close your books and try to remember as many as possible.

24 Read the following topics and undei line the key words. Which tens« should you use? What informatio will you include in each paragraph?

1 Describe the centre of your town or ci during the Christmas season.

2 Describe a restaurant in your neig bourhood which you would highly re ommend, giving reasons why it is wor going to.

3 Describe a popular park in the area y< live in as it is on a pleasant Sund morning.

4 Describe a place of historical signi cance, explaining why it is important

5 Describe a visit to a famous place a explain why it is so well-known.

6 Describe how you think your town v have changed in fifty years' time, givi reasons why you think these chanj will have occurred.

7 Describe a new shop in your to which you feel will be successful, giv reasons for your opinion.

Describe a town or city you have visited and explain why you found it particularly impressive

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