Spoken English and Written EnglishWhat are the main differences between spoken English and its written variety? Please answer in detail. 

22 Answers | Add Yours

jmj616's profile pic

Posted on

In reply to #7:

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.) And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

For a parenthetical that both begins and ends within the parentheses, the punctuation falls within (not so if the parenthetical is within a sentence however). (It all depends upon the completeness of the unit and the function of the parenthetical.) For instance (in addition to the first for instance), if I add a parenthetical comment in this sentence, it will fall under the governance of the sentence punctuation, won't it? (Punctuation can be said to govern, true?) But if I add a comment that is something of an aside and a separate sentence in its own right, I may separate it entirely and then, since it is governed by its own punctuation, I may set the whole kit and kaboodle within its own parentheses and grace it with its own internal punctuation. (I think it's rather fun to write these examples.)

Punctuation doesn't govern; it rules.

Except, of course, when it's excessive.  A writer at the the New Yorker once got upset at Harold Ross, the publisher, for insisting on so many commas; the writer said that when Ross's biography is written, it should be titled The Era of the Comma Man.

kplhardison's profile pic

Posted on

To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.) And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

For a parenthetical that both begins and ends within the parentheses, the punctuation falls within (not so if the parenthetical is within a sentence however). (It all depends upon the completeness of the unit and the function of the parenthetical.) For instance (in addition to the first for instance), if I add a parenthetical comment in this sentence, it will fall under the governance of the sentence punctuation, won't it? (Punctuation can be said to govern, true?) But if I add a comment that is something of an aside and a separate sentence in its own right, I may separate it entirely and then, since it is governed by its own punctuation, I may set the whole kit and kaboodle within its own parentheses and grace it with its own internal punctuation. (I think it's rather fun to write these examples.)

kiwi's profile pic

Posted on

I agree that there is, and should remain, a clear distinction between written and oral language - but I am unsure where the language of e-mail, text and social networking sites should fit. I am an incurable pedant and find myself hyperventilating at incorrect apostrophes and spelling errors (I was distressed only yeaterday that my local supermarket had 'confectionary' on sale). However, I am more tolerant with the spoken word. I am not sure where my feelings lie with the more stream-of-consciousness writing that our digital age promotes - but I can feel myself becoming a dinosaur!

PS - what does 'word' mean as a single response to a comment? It was used twice on tv yesterday!

auntlori's profile pic

Posted on

There is a sense that we are all rather bilingual and simply have to learn when to speak which language. The formal language or writing is essential to know but used much less often than the more informal spoken language we use in conversations and discussions. Knowing when to use each is a trick, sometimes, especially in today's increasingly casual world.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

Posted on

In my opinion, written English is generally more formal. Good writing is clear and concise. And it can be worked  and reworked to achieve the best possible results when others read a piece.

Spoken English is more relaxed. It flies along like stream-of-consciousness writing: words tumble out and there is no way to edit them after they have been "released."

There is a time and place for everything. The importance of different kinds of communication is knowing when to use writing with a formal style, and when to speak casually or more carefully.

In either case, the way we speak or write makes an impact on others that hear us or read our work. Where the spoken word may blur over time, once something is put in writing, it is there, forever, to speak for us when we may not be able to do so: and that is why it is so important to be careful what one puts on paper, and how the writing is presented.

Written language is like a job interview, where spoken language is more like text messaging—short cuts and all.

coachingcorner's profile pic

Posted on

I also do a lot of ESL (English as a second language) teaching and one frustrating aspect, both for the students and myself, is that they have to 'unlearn' some of the rules they have been studying so long in written English. If they don't, their speech sounds stilted, wooden and very outdated! Particularly for the younger ones, it's important that they learn to speak colloquially so that they sound authentic to peers in their host families. Then they must return to perfect grammar for writing!

jmj616's profile pic

Posted on

In reply to #10: C.M. Millward, in A Biography of the English Language, calls this idea of laziness the "principle of least effort."

This principle, Millward says, can explain many isolated cases of language change, such as the general pronunciation of “bitter” in a way that resembles the word “bidder.” (We use our vocal cords when we pronounce the vowels on both sides of the “tt” in “bitter,” and most of us simply find it easier to use our vocal cords throughout the entire word rather than to deactivate our vocal cords for the “tt” part only to have to reactivate them for the rest of the word.)

The principle of least effort doesn’t explain everything, though. Sometimes we find forms of English that are more complex than the Standard English that is often held up as the correct (non-“lazy”) form. Many native speakers in the American South do not make a clear distinction between the pronunciation of “pen” and “pin,” for example, but they sometimes make more distinctions between vowels than other speakers of English.

I’m from central Oklahoma (i.e. not a Southerner), and I’m amazed every time that I hear people from the South (where I now live and work) making clear distinctions between sounds and words when I don’t. For example, I often hear people using three very different versions of an “a” sound in the following words: “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary.”

Laziness isn’t the only thing at work. Or, at the very least, no one group of speakers is lazy all the time.

All of the people are lazy some of the time, and some of the people are lazy all of the time, but you can't say that all of the people are lazy all of the time.  Or something like that, as often quoted from Abe Lincoln.

jk180's profile pic

Posted on

In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

C.M. Millward, in A Biography of the English Language, calls this idea of laziness the "principle of least effort."

This principle, Millward says, can explain many isolated cases of language change, such as the general pronunciation of “bitter” in a way that resembles the word “bidder.” (We use our vocal cords when we pronounce the vowels on both sides of the “tt” in “bitter,” and most of us simply find it easier to use our vocal cords throughout the entire word rather than to deactivate our vocal cords for the “tt” part only to have to reactivate them for the rest of the word.)

The principle of least effort doesn’t explain everything, though. Sometimes we find forms of English that are more complex than the Standard English that is often held up as the correct (non-“lazy”) form. Many native speakers in the American South do not make a clear distinction between the pronunciation of “pen” and “pin,” for example, but they sometimes make more distinctions between vowels than other speakers of English.

I’m from central Oklahoma (i.e. not a Southerner), and I’m amazed every time that I hear people from the South (where I now live and work) making clear distinctions between sounds and words when I don’t. For example, I often hear people using three very different versions of an “a” sound in the following words: “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary.”

Laziness isn’t the only thing at work. Or, at the very least, no one group of speakers is lazy all the time.

jmj616's profile pic

Posted on

In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

Here in Brooklyn, NY, I know people who cannot distinguish between beer and bear, or steal and stale. 

ask996's profile pic

Posted on

In addition to the more formal structure of some written English over spoken English, there is something else to consider. As speakers, we have a tendency to get lazy with our speech and pronunciation. For example sometimes we pronounce words as homophones even though they are not. For example:hour/our and pen/pin. 

jk180's profile pic

Posted on

To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

The end punctuation goes inside the final parenthesis, I'd say, because the entire comment (made up of two sentences) is parenthetical.

lmetcalf's profile pic

Posted on

I most certainly would agree that there is a difference between casual conversational English and formal written English, but what I find sad is that students seem less and less interested in learning what is correct so that their writing can be more academic and formal.  I will correct a grammar point in their speech and they will truly look at me as if I am nuts.  They say: "I did really good on that test"  -- I say, "Yes, you did very well."  They say, "Between you and I, that test was awful."  I say, "Yes, between you and me, I plan to give you extra credit."  They don't even hear that I have subtly corrected them!  Don't even get me started on who and whom used to ask questions....

jmj616's profile pic

Posted on

To #6, regarding sports talk:

Have you noticed the way sportscasters will say, "He's about as good a defensive third baseman as there is in the National League," instead of "He's a great defensive third baseman"?  Or they'll say: "That's about as good a curveball as he's thrown all evening," instead of, "that was a really sharpbreaking curve"?

Here's another one.  If the Mets are playing a game, is it a "Met" game or a "Mets" game?  I understand that David Wright, for example, is a "Met," but it seems to me that a game played by the whole team is a "Mets" game.  Of course noone cares what teachers and enotes editors think; they all say "Met" game. 

(BTW: I am an "enotes" editor, even though I am only one person.  Oh, and double-BTW, the abbreviation BTW I find convenient for informal writing.)

And BTW: in the previous sentence, should the period be inside or outside the parentheses?  I've always wondered about that.

clairewait's profile pic

Posted on

The biggest thing I try to stress to my students is the difference between formality in spoken and written English. In written English, especially in academia, the point of view should almost always be third person. We rarely, if ever, speak in third person about our own thoughts. In writing, one shouldn't use the word "you" to address the reader, but "one" or "the reader".

Grammar is, of course, only evident in written English, as when speaking we emote things like commas with pauses and changes in tone. This can be hard for some students to grasp.

I was going to say this very rule.  It drives me nuts in both spoken AND written English, but have you noticed how acceptable it has become to verbally answer questions in the "2nd person"?

I find professional atheletes do it the most.  The interviewer asks, "How does it feel, coming off a big win like that and knowing you have to turn around and do it again next week?"  The answer inevitably comes in the form that everyone watching and listening has experienced such pressure: "Oh you know, you get out there and you see and hear your fans cheering you on, and you just know you can do it.  You feel like you can do anything, even with that kind of pressure, when you've got the fans behind you like that, you know?"

Meanwhile I'm thinking, "No, I really don't know.  My career-pressure has unfortunately never been supported by hundreds of thousands of cheering fans."

My other thought (in response to your question) is to look at the way teenagers (and many others now, sadly) have begun writing on the internet (whether email, social networking, or blogs, etc).  It seems everyone is looking for new ways to express "voice" that are wholly unconventional and so far unnacceptable in the respected publication world.  For example, I've noticed several people who insert things like (sarcastically) before a comment in order to ensure that everyone knows the comment is ironic.  I think it is a little sad, in a way, that we've become so overt.  I think it has also encouraged redundancy, an epidemic in student-writing.

howesk's profile pic

Posted on

The biggest thing I try to stress to my students is the difference between formality in spoken and written English. In written English, especially in academia, the point of view should almost always be third person. We rarely, if ever, speak in third person about our own thoughts. In writing, one shouldn't use the word "you" to address the reader, but "one" or "the reader".

Grammar is, of course, only evident in written English, as when speaking we emote things like commas with pauses and changes in tone. This can be hard for some students to grasp.

Showing 1–15 of 22

We’ve answered 333,349 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question