Register: finding the right word

This activity is based on the idea of register and how language choices are often linked closely to context.

At its simplest level, this could mean that if you are talking to small children you might adopt a more straightforward register, choosing sentence structures that don't involve too much complicated information delivered in one go.

At a slightly more complicated level, it might involve a copy editor at an advertising agency picking words that are more scientifically impressive when she is putting together the script for a hair care product. Her intended audience might be more impressed by technical sounding ingredients.

Again, another use of register might be to deliberately adopt a particular style of language that helps you blend in with other people around you.

All of these have something to do with register.

In this activity you will be given different settings and tasks that you will need to think about. You'll then be presented with language choices you can make that suit those situations. In most cases you'll be given the choice of a word or phrase from the same word class or type of phrase, so you'll have a set of nouns to choose from, or in another task a set of verb phrases to make your selection from. In some of the more advanced tasks you might also be asked to make slightly more grammatical choices by selecting different structures. Hopefully, all will be clear.

Setting 1

Audience: Primary school children (Ages 6-7)

Task: Explaining issues about the environment

Fill in the missing word that you think is most appropriate in the context.




Setting 2

Audience: group of friends of similar age to you

Task: arranging to meet later in the day


Setting 3

Audience: the headteacher of a school

Task: you need to write a report about an incident that you witnessed outside a local school


Some choices are more obviously appropriate than others, but you will probably have noticed that there’s nothing grammatical to stop you from choosing one word or another. If they are in the same word class then the choice you are making is a matter of style rather than grammar.

In fact, some of the stranger choices you could make might be deliberately odd. Some people will deliberately speak or write in a register different from the usual one to create a comic effect or to show off. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with language and it can be a good way of stretching your vocabulary.

Transformation task

Now you have looked at some language choices connected to different contexts, have a think about how you might rewrite an extract of writing for a different audience. The extract below is taken from a letter sent by a student studying abroad to a friend back home.

Your task is to imagine that the letter needs to be sent to a parent and to rewrite the letter in a more suitable register.


Hi again !

It is now Wednesday - I think and exceedingly hot. Actually today I'm nursing a very bad hangover so I decided I had better stay at home rather than throw up on the metro!!

Our project is not getting very far very fast as we can't understand this Spanish guy. I can get some of what he says but not everything and the other two can't understand a word at all. I have asked him for a written outline of the project so I can bring it home and translate it. They are also annoying because they keep asking this guy to speak English which is not what we are here for.

Anyhow enough moaning and groaning. On Monday I took my camera for a walk to the park near us and took loads of photos. We live very near to the bull-ring and not far from a skating rink would you believe it. It seems strange that there is an ice-rink in the middle of such a hot, dusty city.

Yesterday we went up another mountain on the tram - Mount Tibidales. It was gorgeous up there because it was so cold infact in fact by the time I came home I was actually freezing cold and goose pimply.

I have at last received some post. Two letters from my mum and one from my Dad. It seems I have been accepted to do the open competition exam for Brussels so I will have to start swotting for that. Boring. I will just think of the money.

I am looking forward to Antonio arriving (all being well) on 13th. It will be nice to see him and also to have some new company. I like Sarah who I'm sharing with but am not too keen on some of the others who are here. I haven't decided what I'm going to do at the weekend. There appears to be a Barcelona equivalent of Camden Market so I may go and check that out. I can't think of anymore any more news for the moment so be good(ish!).

See you soon maybe!

Write soon.

Lots of love to you, Simon & Fleur.


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