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Word Classes
There are 8 major word classes:


Nouns are often called naming words. They are the names we give to people, places,
objects, feelings, ideas. You can test a word to see whether its a noun:

By trying to place the in front of it

By seeing whether it will fit into the structure do you know about _________?

Nouns can be divided into several ways.

Proper Nouns refer to specific people and places and are usually written with an
initial capital letter. They do not often appear after the determiners a or the. E.g.

Steven Spielberg, England, Wales.

Common Nouns classify things into types or general categories, e.g. car, dog,
flower, chair
o Concrete Nouns: refer to physical things like objects, people and places, things
that can be observed and measured, e.g. guitar, table, clothes
o Abstract Nouns: refer to ideas, processes, occasions, times and qualities; they
cannot be touched or seen, e.g. happiness, peace, week, confinement
o Collective Nouns: refers to groups of people, animals or objects, e.g. team,
family, flock

Count and Non-Count Nouns

Count nouns can be counted and therefore have a plural form; they cannot be used after the
determiner much:

One lorry -> two lorries

Non-count nouns refer to substances and qualities that cannot be counted. They have no
plural form and cannot follow the determiner a; many of them can be used after quantity
words such as some, any, all, much, e.g.: silver, rice, information

Nouns: Number and Possession

Nouns can be singular or plural. Most plural nouns end in s (books, bottles) but some do not
(sheep, oxen, teeth).
A noun has a possessive ending if an apostrophe, or an apostrophe followed by an s is added
to it to show that something belongs to the noun. An apostrophe alone is added to plural
words that already end in s (the babies toys), otherwise an apostrophe followed by an s is
added (Sallys bag, mens magazines, Charless bicycle).

Adjectives are traditionally known as describing words. They provide extra information
about nouns by giving details of physical qualities like colour and shape, and of
psychological qualities like emotions; and by providing evaluative judgements:
Some green leaves

a heavy sack

a boring film

a good story

Adjectives specify a nouns field of reference: that is, they narrow the range of meaning by
providing us with specific detail. You can test a word to see whether it is an adjective:

By placing it between the and a noun

By placing very before it

Adjectives have the following characteristics

Position in Relation to Nouns

Adjectives can be used in two positions: before a noun (attributive adjectives) and after the
verb to be and other copular verbs or linking verbs such as to become and to seem
(predicative adjectives):


the large balloon

the balloon is large

a pure white stallion

the essay was very good

Adjectives can be graded so that nouns can be compared:
A big car

a bigger car

the biggest car

Monosyllabic and disyllabic adjectives from the comparative by adding er and the
superlative by adding est:
Long -> longer -> longest
Polysyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives from the comparative by using more and the
superlative by using most before the adjective:
More fortunate -> most fortunate
Some adjectives are irregular, as the following patterns show:
Bad -> worse -> worst

good -> better -> best

Words from other word classes

Sometimes, words from other word classes do the job of an adjective:
The running boy (V)

the garden wall (N)

In these examples, a noun and a verb give extra details about the nouns boy and wall. The
verb running and the noun garden are not adjectives, even though they occur in the same
position as an adjective and describing the boy and the wall. Linguists call any word that
describes a noun a modifier: this takes account of the fact that not all words used will be
from the adjective word class.

Verbs are traditionally known as doing words, but this does not cover all their possible
meanings. A more accurate definition would be that verbs can express actions and states.
Stative verbs express states of being or processes in which there is no obvious action; they
are not often used as commands and do not usually occur after the verb to be with an ing
To know

to believe

to remember to realise

to suppose

to appear

Dynamic verbs express a wide range of actions which may be physical, like jump, mental,
like think, or perceptual, like see.
Transitive Verbs must be followed by an object (the person or thin to which the action of the
verb is done) to complete their meaning:
I carried the bag.

They found the lost ring.

We can make a Christmas cake.

Intransitive verbs do not need to be followed by an object to make sense. Many verbs
describing position (to sit; to lie) and motion (to run; to go) are intransitive- the verb will
often be followed by a description of place or destination:
It happened.

The children laughed

The girl went to the cinema.

Auxiliary verbs are of two types: primary verbs and modal verbs. Auxiliary verbs (often
known as helping verbs) are placed in front of the main verb

There are only three primary verbs: be, have, do.

The modal auxiliary verbs include: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would,

The infinitive (or base form) is the form from which all other forms of the verb are derived.
All verbs have an infinitive, which always includes to: to run, to walk, to decide, etc.
English has two tenses: the present tense and the past tense. Various constructions are used to
refer to the future, the most common of which is adding the modal will or shall to the
infinitive form of the verb.

Active and Passive

Verbs can be active or passive. If a verb is used actively, the person or thing performing the
action is emphasised at the subject of the verb.
The minister has issued an apology.
If the passive voice is used, the emphasis shifts to the object of the verb (the person or thing
to which something has been done). The order of the sentence is reversed:
An apology has been issued by the minister.
Using the passive form means that the agent responsible for the action (in this case, the
Minister) can be left out completely:
An apology has been issued.
As this example shows, one of the reasons for using the passive voice may be to avoid
drawing attention to the person responsible for an action. Another effect of the passive voice
can be to make the object seem powerless, a victim of whoever or whatever is performing the
action. E.g. The country was torn by war, devastated by drought and ravaged by famine.

Adverbs are modifying words. They give information about time, place and manner, and can
express a speakers attitude to or evaluation of what is being said. They can modify:

Other adverbs

The car drove slowly.

The house was very pretty.
The mural was painted particularly carefully.
Certainly, the work will be completed on time.
I went home; my friend, meanwhile, stayed to chat.

Circumstance Adverbs modify verbs, giving details of circumstances such as time, manner
and place:


He was sleeping well; the cat was fighting furiously

You must go to school now; afterwards, you can go swimming.
I always visit my grandmother on Sundays; I never stay at


Go there to get a coat; upstairs they have shirts too.

To test for an adverb of manner, ask yourself the question how?

To test for an adverb of time, ask yourself the question when?
To test for an adverb of frequency, ask yourself the question how often?
To test for an adverb of place, ask yourself the question where?

Degree Adverbs (or Modifiers) modify adjectives or adverbs:


Its very good to see you; I really missed you; Im so glad to be back.

Sentence Adverbs (disjuncts and conjuncts) modify a whole sentence. Disjuncts express
speakers or writers attitudes, allowing them to comment on what is being said or written;
conjuncts can be used to link sentences.


Firstly, I intend to go away; however, I will write postcards.

I could perhaps do the work, but surely you could get someone else.

Forming Adverbs
Many adverbs are formed by adding ly to adjectives:
Calm > calmly
Gentle > gently
Comparatives and superlatives
Like adjectives, adverbs can have COMPARATIVE and SUPERLATIVE forms. Although
some can take the er, and est endings, most require the use of more and most.
Early earlier earliest
Loudly more loudly most loudly
Crucially more crucially most crucially
There are three main positions for adverbs:

The front of the sentence

o Actually, I have loved this place for a long time
The middle of a sentence after the first auxiliary, after the verb to be as a lexical
verb, or before the lexical verb
o I have actually loved this place for a long time
o I am actually in love with this place
o I actually loved the place
The end of the sentence
o I loved the place actually.

Pronouns are used instead of nouns, noun phrases or noun clauses. There are different types
of pronouns.
Personal Pronouns

Subject Pronouns are used for the actor of the sentence.

o I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they
Object Pronouns are used to replace the noun that receives the action of the verb
o Me, you, him/her/it, us, you, them

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are used when you need to show possession of something:
o mine, yours, his/hers, ours, yours, theirs

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns indicate that the object of the sentence is the same as the subject.
o Myself, yourself, himself/herself/itself, ourselves, yourself, themselves

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns have a sense of pointing at something or someone:

o This, that, these, those

Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used when asking a question.

o Who, which, whose, what

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns act as linking words in a sentence. They refer to other nouns, and
they are always placed immediately after the noun they refer to.
o That, who, whom, whose, which

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns do not refer to specific persons or things.

o Anything, someone, no one, everything

Conjunctions (sometimes known as connectives1) are joining words, and there are two types.
They join together the different parts of a sentence. Conjunctions play an important part int
he cohesion of a text.
Coordinating conjunctions include the words and, but, neither...nor, either...or, or. They are
used when the parts of the sentence to be joined are of equal value.
I went to the party and met Tony there.
Subordinating conjunctions connect a subordinate clause to a main clause. A clause
introduced by a subordinating conjunction cannot stand alone. The following are some of the
main subordinating conjunctions:


when(ever), while, as, before, until, after, since, once, when

where, wherever
so that, in order that
because, as, since
if, unless, whether
although, while, whereas
as, than, like, as if, as though

1 The term connective is also used more broadly, to refer not just to conjunctions but to any words or
phrases that have a linking function in a sentence.

Prepositions usually indicate in some way how one thing is related to something else.
Examples include prepositions relating to:


at, on, by, opposite

into, towards, past, out of, to, through
at, on, before, in, like
from, out of

It is important to be aware that some words that have the form of a preposition do not have
the same function.
The girl read in the library.
The rioters kicked in the door.
The form of the preposition in is identical in each case, but the function is different. In the
first sentence, in describes where the girl is reading it is therefore a preposition of place. In
the second sentence, however, in is directly related to the verb kicked in this case, it is
called a particle.

Determiners precede nouns. There are five main types:

o Articles can be definite (the) or indefinite (a/an). The former specifies

something particular, while the latter does not.

Possessive Determiners
o Possessive determiners are used to suggest ownership of a noun. There are

seven forms: my, your, his, her, its, our and their
Demonstrative Determiners
o Demonstrative determines express a contrast, establishing either a close or a

more distant relationship.

This week is going slowly.
The shop assistant said that she wanted these things kept aside for her.
Indefinite Determiners
o Indefinite determiners convey a range of meanings. The most common ones
are: all, some, any, no, every, each, either, neither, one, another, both, several,

enough, many, more, most, few, little, fewer, less, fewest and least
o When numbers precede nouns, they are functioning as determiners. Both
cardinal numbers (one, two, three...) and ordinal numbers (first, second,
third...) can be used as determiners.

Phrase Structure2
The structure of a phrase or sentence can be represented in diagrammatic form, as the tree
diagram below:
E.g: A dog chased that girl








In constructing our phrase structure grammar of English, we begin with the initial symbol S =
sentence. We all have an intuitive idea of what counts as a sentence. It is a tenet of both
traditional and generative grammar that S consists of two constituents: the subject (Su) and
the predicate (pred). The subject is variously defined as the topic, the actor, or that which is
spoken about. The predicate is defined as the comment, the action, or that which is said about
the subject; it says something true or false about the subject.
We can formalize our recognition of the subject and predicate as key elements in the sentence
in the following phrase structure rule:
S Noun Phrase and Verb Phrase
A phrase is one or more words functioning as a unit in a sentence, usually containing a
headword and accompanying modifiers.
Headword: the main word in a phrase
Modifiers: these are words that describe the head word or give us more information about it.
If they come before the head word they are known as pre-modifiers. If they come after the
head word they are called post-modifiers.
2 Adapted from Thomas, L., Beginning Syntax (Blackwell Publishing)

The noun phrase (NP) can be expanded in many different ways:

The noun (N) is the only obligatory element in the first seven expansions of NP below and
serves as head; the other elements are all optional. The adjective (A) or adjective phrase (AP)
precedes the N and the prepositional phrase (PP) follows the N; both serve as modifiers of the
noun (modifier of N), expressing a quality of the noun, answering the question which dogs?
Det here stands for determiners, Pro stand for pronouns and PN refers to Proper
A noun phrase (NP) usually has a noun or pronoun as its headword. It usually begins with a
determiner and normally has a noun as its most important word. It can act as a subject, and as
an object or a complement in a clause. These are some examples of noun phrases:

The beach
The beach nearby
The sandy beach
The long, sandy beach
The beach across the bay

In all of these examples the head word is beach. All have a pre-modifying determiner (the).
Many noun phrases also have adjectives, which act as pre-modifiers. In two of the above
examples, sandy and long, sandy, are used in this way. The last two examples have postmodifiers (nearby and across the bay).


A verb phrase usually contains a main verb (the head word) and any accompanying auxiliary
I may see him.

I will see him.

I should have seen him.

A verb phrase can be a single word: I saw him.

A clause usually contains both a verb phrase and other types of phrase. Clauses are made up
of five elements, all of which are present in the following sentences:
My teacher | called | my project | a masterpiece | yesterday.
1. The subject the subject of a clause is the main person or thing that the clause is
about (My teacher). It performs the action that is described, so it usually comes
before the verb.
2. The verb (called) is the second element.
3. The object (my project) normally follows the verb and usually provides an answer
to the question Who or what has something been done to? In this case, it is my
project that has been called something.
4. The complement (a masterpiece) gives more information about the subject or (as in
this case) more information about the object.
5. The adverbial (yesterday) is usually a kind of optional extra in a sentence. It
normally provides information of the following kinds:
Time I spoke to him last week
Place I spoke to him at the bus stop.
Manner I spoke to him quietly

Most clauses contain a subject and a verb. Whether or not the other elements are present will
depend on the type of clause that is used. The elements that make up clauses can be combined
in seven different ways:

A sentence is a grammatical construction that makes sense on its own. In writing, it begins
with a capital letter and ends with a full stop or an exclamation or question mark.
Depending on their structures, sentences may be simple, compound or complex.

Simple sentences
A simple sentence contains just one clause. It has only one finite verb and is described as a
main clause.

Compound Sentences
A compound sentence contains two or more simple sentences linked by co-ordinating
conjunctions (and, or, but). Each clause in a compound sentence carries equal weight and
makes sense on its own, so each can therefore be described as a main clause. Sentences will
often be linked like this because they share content in some way.

When two sentences are linked, it is usually better to avoid repetition. This can be achieved
by using substitution or ellipsis.
In substitution, a pronoun replaces a noun or a noun phrase:

Ellipsis is the omission of an element of language. As long as the reader can easily recognise
exactly what has been deleted, a part of a sentence can be omitted to avoid repetition.

Complex Sentences
In a complex sentence, one or more of the clauses is of lesser importance than the main
clauses. These lesser clauses are called subordinate clauses. Unlike main clauses, a
subordinate clause cannot stand on its own and make sense.
Subordinate clauses are especially likely to occur in long sentences. They can occupy the
position of any of the elements in a main clause except the verb. This means that a
subordinate clause might act as a subject, an object, a complement or an adverbial. One way
of trying to identify subordinate clauses is to look for the subordinating conjunctions that
often introduce subordinate clauses. These include such words as because, when, after,
although, as, except and such expressions as in order to, so that, as though and rather than.
Compound-Complex Sentences
In making a compound-complex sentence, co-ordination and subordination are used together:

The first main clause here has two subordinate clauses in the object site. It is co-ordinated
with another main clause of equal value which has one subordinate clause in the object site.

Each main clause in the sentence above contains a subordinate clause functioning as an
adverbial. Each subordinate clause starts with a subordinating conjunction, when or after; the
two main clauses are joined by a co-ordinating conjunction, and.
Major and Minor Sentences
All the sentences considered so far can be described as regular or major sentences because
they are constructed using regular patterns.
Some sentences, however, do not follow expected patterns and these are called irregular or
minor sentences. Minor sentences lack some of the essential clause elements considered to
so far. They use unusual patterns which cannot easily be analysed. Minor sentences are often
used in everyday conversation, on posters, in headlines, in advertisements and in slogans. You
can check to see whether is minor by trying to change the verb into the past tense. If you can
do so and the sentence still makes sense, it is probably a major rather than a minor sentence.
Minor sentences can be:
Formulae used in social situations: hello, thanks, bye
Interjections used to express some kind of emotion: ah!, tut tut!
Abbreviated forms often used on postcards or in spoken commentaries: wish you were
here, nearly there
Words or phrases used as exclamations, questions or commands: what a day!,
congratulations!, never!, taxi!
Analysing a sentence
In order to analyse a sentence, use the following process:
1. Underline the verbs in the sentence if there are none, its an example of a minor
2. Identify the main lexical verb(s) and mark the main clause(s)
3. Label the clause elements.

4. Identify any subordinate clauses and decide whether they function as a whole or as a
part of the clause element.
5. Identify the type of subordinate clause by identifying the word class of the first word.
The following table summarises the kinds of words that appear in the initial position
of a subordinate clause and the clause types in each case.


Another way of classifying sentences is to identify their functions.

The mood of a sentence shows the attitude of the speaker to the action or event referred to in
the verb phrase: we can tell someone something, or ask them or command them to do
something. There are four sentence moods.
Declarative mood
The declarative mood is used for making statements. You can recognise the declarative by
checking whether the subject comes first in the clause and is followed by the verb. If the
sentence is complex, the mood is determined by the main clause, so always look at that first.

Interrogative mood
The interrogative mood is used for addressing questions. You can recognise the interrogative
by checking whether the subject follows the auxiliary verbs do, have or be.

In speech, if the word order is unchanged and the intonation patterns are used to indicate a
question, the mood is said to be declarative. The only examples of the interrogative mood
in which words are not inverted are in sentences in which wh- words fill the subject site.

Imperative Mood
The imperative mood is used for addressing commands or orders. You can recognise the
imperative by checking that there is no subject and that the verb is in the base form

Sometimes the person addressed is named but not in the traditional subject site of the clause;
instead, a vocative is used. This refers to the person to whom the sentence is addressed. A
vocative has two functions:
To call someone, in order to gain her or his attention, e.g. Joseph, its tea-time. Its
your turn on the computer now, Julie.
To address someone, express a particular social relationship or a personal attitude, e.g.
Waiter, theres a fly in my soup!

You fool, what are you trying to do?

Vocatives are optional and can occur at the beginning, middle or end of the sentence. They
can be:

Names: Andrew, Sharon

Family titles: Mum, Dad, Aunt
Labels that reflect status or respect: sir, madam, ladies and gentlemen
Professional titles: nurse, doctor, councillor
Words reflective evaluative judgements, pig, darling, sweetheart
you as an impolite term of address

Exclamatory mood
Exclamatory sentences are emphatic sentences, which in writing are indicated by the use of
an exclamation mark: Ive got to read the book by tomorrow!

Language has a hierarchical structure. Words, phrases, clauses and sentences are divided in
terms of their rank. Words are described as having a lower rank and sentences as having a
higher rank. This is because a sentence may be made up of more than one clause; clauses may
be made up of more than one phrase; and phrases may be made up of more than one word.
One needs to think about the ways in which sentences are combined into larger units or
discourse the linguistic term used to describe spoken or written language that is longer than
a sentence in length. In any study of cohesion, one needs to consider the ways in which
sentences are linked to create text.
Cohesion refers to the techniques and devices sued to connect different parts of a text with
each other. There are two main kinds of cohesion: grammatical, involving the use of
sentence structure and the grammatical functions of words, and lexical, involving the use of
word meanings.
There are other forms of cohesion which it is useful to be able to recognise:

lexical cohesion,
linking adverbs and conjunctions.

Lexical Cohesion
Lexical Cohesion is a kind of textual linking dependent on a writer or speakers choice of
words. A number of cohesive techniques can be used.
In collocations, words are associated within phrases. Because they are often well
known, they are predictable. Many can be described as idioms and clichs.
o Home and dry, safe and sound, free and easy
In repetition, either words or phrases are directly repeated or synonyms (related
words with a similar meaning) are used.
Superordinates are general words; Hyponyms are subdivisions of the general
categorisation. Both these types of words can be used to provide cohesion:
o Superordinate: dog
Hyponyms: Alsatian, poodle, spaniel
o Superordinate: crockery
Hyponums: plate, cup, bowl

Many written or spoken texts have a clear content focus and could therefore be
described as subject-specific.

In linking by substitution, one
linguistic item is replaced by a shorter

one. The

substitution will usually occur in the second clause so that the meaning is clear. Several parts
of a sentence can be replaced.

Noun phrases
Personal pronouns can be substitutes for noun phrases in the subject or object clause
sites. They should only be used if the identity of the person or thing is clear.

Either the head or the whole of a noun phrase can be replaced by the indefinite
pronouns one or some or by the noun phrase the same.

Equally, superordinates and hyponyms can be substitutes:

Verb phrases
A verb phrase or a verb phrase plus object can be replaced by the auxiliary verb do.


Clauses can be replaced using so as a substitute for a positive clause and not as a
substitute for a negative clause.
Its going to be sunny today? They say so.
I wonder if I need to buy a new ticket? The driver said not.

Grammatical Cohesion
In ellipsis, part of a sentence is left out. If the sentence is to remain meaningful, it must be
clear what the omitted words are.
Noun phrases
The head of simple noun phrase and the head and any modifiers or qualifiers in a
complex noun phrase can be omitted.

Verb phrases
Repeated lexical and auxiliary verbs can be omitted from a verb phrase:

Whole clauses can be omitted, usually within sentence boundaries rather than outside:


References cannot be interpreted alone because they point to something else in a discourse.
Pronouns (also called substitute words) are often used to make these references, but
comparative structures expressing particular similarities or differences can also be used.

There are three main kinds of reference.

Anaphoric References
Anaphoric references point backwards in a text. In other words, the reader or listener
must look back to a previous noun phrase to make sense of the pronoun or
comparative structure used. E.g The boy broke the window and then he ran away.
Cataphoric References
Cataphoric references point forwards in a text. In other words, the reader or listener
must look ahead to a subsequent noun phrase in order to understand the structure
E.g. This was the life lying in the sun with the waves roaring in the background.
These are the words he used: I cannot stand it any longer and Im leaving.
Exophoric References
Exophoric reference point beyond a text. In other words, the reader or listener must
make a connection with something outside the discourse.
E.g. That boat over there is mine.

Linking adverbs and conjunctions

Linking adverbs and conjunctions are joining words that provide links either within a
sentence or within the larger context of discourse. There are four main types.
Additive adverbs and conjunctions add on information, possibly as an afterthought:
and, furthermore, beside, incidentally.
Adversative adverbs and conjunctions help to create a contrast between the sentence
they introduce and the preceding sentences: yet, however, nevertheless, on the

Causal adverbs and conjunctions link two clauses or sentences by suggesting that one
has been the result of the other: because, since, therefore, as a result, thus.
Temporal adverbs and conjunctions create a time link between one clause or sentence
and another: before, while, then, after that, at once, meanwhile.

Semantics can be defined as the study of meanings. There are two levels of meaning that
words can have:


Denotation refers to the straightforward, objective meaning of a word. It is the kind of

meaning we might expect to find if we looked the word up in a dictionary. The word winter,
for example, denotes the season between autumn and spring.
The connotations of a word are the associations that a word has the emotions and attitudes
that are aroused by it. For example, we might associate the word winter with dark evenings
and cold, unpleasant weather.
Lexical Fields
Lexis is another word for vocabulary. A lexical field is a group of words with associated
meanings and uses. Computers, for example, have a lexical field that includes words such as
the following:
Software, modem, mouse, cursor, monitor, keyboard, menu, file, document, upgrade, disk,
In a text about computers, we might expect to find vocabulary drawn from this field. Such
vocabulary can also be termed field-specific lexis.
Hyponyms and hypernyms
A hyponym is a word that is linked in meaning to, but more specific than, another word,
known as a hypernym. Hypernyms are always more general than hyponyms, and a single
hypernym will usually have several hyponyms. The word flower is a hypernym. Words
referring to specific kinds of flower are hyponyms: carnation, rose, daffodil etc.
Synonyms are words that are similar in meaning. Here are some examples:

Begin commence start

Chat conversation talk
Assemble gather meet

Antonyms are words whose meanings are in some way opposite to each other. Many
antonyms are adjectives (e.g. cold/hot, wet/dry, tall/short), but antonyms can also belong to
other word classes: e.g. verbs (start/finish), adverbs (always/never), nouns (boy/girl).
The deliberate contrasting of opposite words or ideas in a text is known as antithesis.
A word that has more than one meaning is said to be polysemic. For example, clear has
different meanings in The motorway is clear and his reasons were clear. A related, broader
term is ambiguity. An ambiguous word, expression or argument can be understood or
interpreted in more than one way.
Similes and Metaphors
Similes are comparisons that involve the use of like or as. Many are in everyday use:
As bold as brass

as slippery as an eel

tremble like a leaf

As cold as ice

swim like a fish

sleep like a log

Metaphors take the process of comparison a stage further and describe a person, object or
situation as if it actually were something else. What is said is not literally true:
E.g: The students sat there nervously as a hail of criticism rained down on their heads.
If the writer builds on the original comparison, sustaining it over a considerable portion of the
text, it becomes an extended metaphor.
An idiom is an expression whose meaning cannot be understood from the meanings of the
individual words that make up the expression as the literal meaning of the words bears no
apparent relation to the meaning that the words have when they are grouped together: e.g.
face the music.

Groups (usually pears) of words that are commonly found alongside each other are known as
collocations. Some words have a restricted collocational range e.g. the word spick is rarely
used other than as part of the expression spick and span. Other words have no collocational
restrictions (the, after, of). There are various forms of collocations, including:
1. adverb + adjective

Invading that country was an utterly stupid thing to do.

We entered a richly decorated room.

Are you fully aware of the implications of your action?

2. adjective + noun

The doctor ordered him to take regular exercise.

The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage.

He was writhing on the ground in excruciating pain.

3. noun + noun

Let's give Mr Jones a round of applause.

The ceasefire agreement came into effect at 11am.

I'd like to buy two bars of soap please.

4. noun + verb

The lion started to roar when it heard the dog barking.

Snow was falling as our plane took off.

The bomb went off when he started the car engine.

5. verb + noun

The prisoner was hanged for committing murder.

I always try to do my homework in the morning, after making my bed.

He has been asked to give a presentation about his work.

6. verb + expression with preposition

We had to return home because we had run out of money.

At first her eyes filled with horror, and then she burst into tears.

Their behaviour was enough to drive anybody to crime.

An oxymoron is an expression, in which words of contradictory or opposite meaning have
been collocated e.g. bitter sweet, deceptively honest.
Levels of formality
Informal language is language that is relaxed, familiar and conversational. At the opposite
end of the spectrum is formal language, which has a more serious, distant and impersonal
tone. There are different degrees or levels of formality. Each of the expressions below, for
example, might be said to occupy a different level of formality:
Suffering from chronic fatigue


Very tired


As in the above example, the key indicators of how formal or informal a text is will often be
the vocabulary. Grammar can also be important: formal texts sometimes employ lengthy,
elaborately constructed sentences, while informal language is associated more with short

Political Correctness
The following is a selection of definitions of political correctness:
The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or
insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against (OED
Conformity to a body of liberal or radical opinion on social matters, characterized by the
advocacy of approved views and the rejection of language and behaviour considered
discriminatory or offensive. (Oxford Dictionary of New Words, 1997)
The most powerful mental tyranny in what we call the free world is Political Correctness,
which is both immediately evident, and to be seen everywhere, and as invisible as a kind of
poison gas, for its influences are often far from the source, manifesting as a general
intolerance. (Doris Lessing, 2004)
Political Correctness is a concept invented by hard-rightwing forces to defend their right to
be racist, to treat women in a degrading way and to be truly vile about gay people. They
invent these people who are Politically Correct, with a rigid, monstrous attitude to life so they
can attack them. But we have all had to learn to modify our language. Thats all part of being
a human being. (Clare Short, Guardian, February 18, 1995)

Suggested Reading: Geoffrey Hughes, Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture
(Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)

Arguments in Favour of Political Correctness

Supporters of political correctness argue that much of the language they oppose is offensive
and demeaning. In contrast, referring to minority groups in more positive terms encourages
them to feel respected and accepted by the rest of society.
Another argument relates to the theory that the language we learn to use influences the way
we perceive the world. If the vocabulary we acquire as children encourages us to think of
certain minority groups as inferior, we are more likely to view them in this way. It follows

that changing the language that people use should change their perceptions: using more
positive vocabulary to describe minorities will mean people start to view them more
Criticisms of Political Correctness
Opponents of political correctness argue that seeking to control the language we use comes
dangerously close to trying to control the way that we think. They regard those who
campagin against politically incorrect language as dictatorial and intolerant.
Others who are sympathetic to the causes of political correctness argue that focusing on
language is a distraction from the real struggle, which should be directed towards more
practical goals, such as tougher laws against discrimination and increased investment to help
the disadvantaged. They argue that language reflects social attitudes, and that if attitudes do
not change in society the new positive vocabulary will soon acquire the same negative
connotations as the old.
Political correctness is often ridiculed through the use of humour. Bizarre, outlandish
expressions are invented to satirise the new vocabulary of political correctness: boring
becomes differently interesting; bald becomes hair disadvantaged; false teeth become
alternative dentition. Stories deriding the excess of political correctness regularly appear in
the press. In the 1980s, it was reported that the left-wing leadership of the Great London
Council had banned references to black coffee in the council cafeteria because black was a
racist word; coffee without milk was to be used instead (in fact the story was completely

Exam Practice:
Explain the motives of those who have sought to make langauge more politically correct and
consider the extend to which they have been succesful.

Taboo language refers to words that are avoided because they are considered offensive,
embarrassing, obscene or unpleasant.
Taboo derives from a Tongan word referring to behaviour that is forbidden; originally the
word had religious connotations. We use taboo language to refer to words that we avoid
using, either because we find them offensive or because we do not wish to offend others.
Certain vocabulary relating to sex, sexual organs and bodily functions is especially strongly
condemned: it is described as swearing and involves the use of bad language, foul language
or four-letter words.
Occasionally, the use of taboo language is prevented by laws and regulations (e.g. national
newspapers will have a policy regarding words it is prepared to print and words it is not).
Generally, however, it is a matter of social custom: attitudes within society (or within
particular social groups) will determine which words are considered unacceptable.
Taboo language is strongly associated with certain subjects, such as sex, religion, bodily
functions, illness and death. Because these are socially sensitive subjects, and discussion of
them can sometimes cause embarrassment or offence, it is not surprising that there is also
sensitivity regarding the language used to refer to them.
Often the situation influences whether a word is a taboo or not.
Reasons for using taboo language
So far, we have focused on the reasons for avoiding taboo language, and the ways of
achieving this. In practice, taboo expressions are in regular use if they were not, they would
disappear from the language. Some reasons for using taboo language are outlined below:

Using taboo language challenges societys norms and conventions. It may be an

expression of defiance or rebellions, or an attempt to change societys attitudes.

Swear words provide an emotional outlet and are often used to give vent to strong

feelings of rage or frustration.

Covert prestige may be acquired through swearing. Covert prestige is the prestige that
derives from acting in ways that defy the norms of conventional, respectable society.
If other members of a social group swear, using language in a similar way expresses
solidarity with them.

Various linguistic strategies are used to avoid taboo language.

Part of the word may be omitted and replaced by dashes or asterisks (as in f**k). The

Jewish religion forbids the use of God in writing or print; it is replaced by G-d.
A taboo word may referred to by its initial letter only. Use of this device has
broadened, and it is now often used humorously to refer to works that the speaker is

reluctant to mention.
The form of the taboo word may be changed, so that it becomes inoffensive. Usually,

the initial sound of the word is retained, e.g. Sugar!, Crikey and Cripes!
Most importantly, euphemisms are used.

A euphemism is a mild or indirect expression used instead of one that is considered in some
way offensive, painful or unpleasant. The existence of taboo words and ideas motivates the
creation of euphemisms, which serve to avoid frightening or unpleasant subjects. In many
societies, because death is feared, there are many euphemisms related to this subject. People
are less apt to die and more apt to pass on or pass away. Those who take care of your loved
ones who have passed away are more likely to be funeral directors than morticians or
The use of euphemisms is not new. It is reported that the Greek historian Plutarch in the first
century CE wrote that the ancient Athenians [...] used to cover up the ugliness of things with
auspicious and kindly terms, giving them polite and endearing names. Thus they called
harlots companions, taxes contributions, and a prison a chamber.
Euphemisms show that a word or phrase has not only a linguistic denotative meaning but also
a connotative meaning that reflects attitudes, emotions, value judgements and so on.

Language and Sexism

The discussion of obscenities, blasphemies, taboo words and euphemisms shows that words
of a language are not intrinsically good or bad but reflect individual or societal values. This is
also seen in references to a woman as a castrating female, ballsy womens libber, or
courageous feminist advocate, depending on who is talking.
Early dictionaries often gave clues to the social attitudes of that time. In some 20 th century
dictionaries, examples used to illustrate the meaning of words include manly courage and
masculine charm as opposed to womanish tears and feminine wiles. Contemporary
dictionaries are far more enlightened and try to be scrupulous in avoiding sexist language.
Until recently, most people who heard My cousin is a professor (or a doctor, or the
chancellor of the university, or a steelworker) would assume that the cousin is a man; if they
heard My cousin is a nurse (or elementary school teacher, or clerk-typist, or house worker),
they would conclude that the cousin is a woman. This is changing because society is
changing and people of either sex commonly hold jobs once held primarily by one sex.
Nevertheless, words for women with abusive or sexual overtones abound: dish, piece, piece
of ass, piece of tail, bunny, chick, pussy, bitch, doll, slut, cow to name just a few. Far fewer
much sexual terms exist for men, and those that do, such as boy toy, stud muffin, hunk and
jock, are not pejorative in the same way.
Its therefore clear that language reflects sexism. It reflects societal attitude, positive or
negative; languages are infinitely flexible and expressive. But is language itself amoral or
neutral? Or is there something about language, or a particular language, that abets sexism?
The idea that women are appendages to men finds a counterpart in many languages such as
English, where many feminine occupational terms are formally derived from the male
version, for example: manager/manageress. The male form is generally unmarked and the
female term is created by adding a bound morpheme:












When referring in general to the profession of acting, or flying, or riding horseback, the
unmarked terms actor, aviator and equestrian are used. The marked terms are used to
emphasise the female gender.
Naming practises are also social practises in which men come first, as can be seen in
conventional expressions such as Adam and Eve, boys and girls, with the exception of ladies
and gentlemen.
With women occupying more and varied roles in society, many of the marked female forms
have been replaced by the male forms, which are used to refer to either sex. Thus women, as
well as men, are authors, actors, poets, heroes, heirs, postal carriers, fire fighters, and police
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis proposes that the way a language encodes puts into words
different categories like male and female subtly affects the way speakers of the language
think about those categories. Thus, it may be argued that because English speakers are often
taught to choose he as the unmarked pronoun (Everyone should respect himself), and to
choose she only when the referent is overtly female, they tend to think of the male sex as
predominant. Likewise, the fact that nouns require special affixes to make them feminine
forces people to think in terms of male and female, with the female somehow more derivative
because of affixing.

The different titles, Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms, also emphasise the

male/female distinction. Finally, the preponderance of words denigrating females in English

and in many other languages may create a climate that is more tolerant of sexist behaviour.

Gender Differences in Language

Already in 1790, Mary Wollstonecraft was attacking the gendered and biased language that
presented women as weak and subject to mens power. Around 2 centuries later, in her
canonical work The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir distinguishes between sex and
gender and puts forward the claim that gender is a social construct, which is imposed upon
women: One is not born a woman, but becomes one. Her work shows how myths about

women are created to serve patriarchal needs and uphold their subservient role together with
other social and economic factors. The exploration of representations and myths of women in
literary criticism paved the way for the interest in the relationship between language and
gender in sociolinguistic and discourse studies, which, through researching and analysing
linguistic behaviour, attempt to affirm or negate the validity of certain myths and claims that
are related to womens communicative style. This topic entails a variety of concerns,
including the differences, if any, in pronunciation, choice of vocabulary and conversational
styles, as well as the social and linguistic implications of these differences.
Jennifer Coates, in her study entitled Women, Men and Language (1993), observes that there
are multiple gender differences with regards to language and shows how and why the
language of men and women differs. She comments on how in the past, women accepted
their inferior status, whereas over the years, they have become more and more aware that
they do not share an equal status with men and are less ready to accept this situation. Coates
applies Henri Tajfels theory of inter-group relations and social change, showing how women
try to gain equality with men by adopting the values of the superior group through a strategy
called assimilation and how this is evident in their use of language. According to Coates,
women have tried to assimilate into the dominant group in the following ways they tend to
use deeper voices (lower in pitch for instance Margaret Thatcher was told that her voice did
not match her position as British Prime Minister because she sounded too shrill and was
advised to lower the pitch of her voice and thereby adopt an authoritative delivery to make
herself heard). They also tend to swear and use taboo language, adopt a more assertive style
in group interaction, adopt prosodic features more typical of men (e.g. falls rather than rising
intonation patterns), and address themselves in public to traditionally male topics such as
business, politics and economics. However, the problem with this approach is that women
redefine themselves in terms of male values. [...] If women are searching for a satisfactory
identity of their own, this is obviously a flawed strategy.
The interpretation of the linguistic variation in relation to gender can be categorised in two
approaches the dominance and difference approach. On the one hand, the dominance
approach sees women as the oppressed group and interprets linguistic differences in terms of
mens dominance and womens subordination (Coates 1993). Robin Lakoff (1975) adopts the
position that men are dominant and that women lack power.

Consequently, womens

language is discussed in relationship to mens language, the former being the marked variety
and the latter being the norm (quoted in Wardhaugh, p. 346). The idea that women are

appendages to men finds a counterpart in many languages such as English, where many
feminine occupational terms are formally derived from the male version, for example:
manager/manageress. Naming practises are also social practises in which men come first, as
can be seen in conventional expressions such as Adam and Eve, boys and girls, with the
exception of ladies and gentlemen. In her study Language and woman's place (1975), Lakoff
argues that our use of language embodies attitudes as well as referential meanings. 'Woman's
language' has as foundation the attitude that women are marginal to the serious concerns of
life, which are pre-empted by men. The marginality and powerlessness of women is reflected
in both the ways women are expected to speak, and the ways in which women are spoken of.
According to Lakoff, women tend to use more qualifiers (such as sort of, kind of and it
seems) when they speak that tend to weaken the assertiveness of their language. Similarly,
she argues that womens use of question tags shows their lack of confidence in the truth of
their statements. Moreover, womens speech is often described as tentative an assertion
which is related to the claim that women use more hedges. Contrastingly, Holmes (1984) and
Cameron et al (1989) analyse question tags in terms of modality and affectiveness. Tags with
primarily modal meaning signal the speakers degree of certainty about the proposition
expressed and can be described as speaker-oriented since they ask the addressee to confirm
the speakers proposition. Tags which have an affective meaning express the speakers
attitude to the addressee and are therefore addressee-oriented. From Holmes study, it was
found that 59% of the question tags used by women are facilitative (support the addressee),
compared with the 25% for men, while 61% of the tags used by men are model and express
uncertainty, when compared with the 35% for women (quoted in Coates, 1993). From this
study, it seems that affective tags are associated with powerful speakers, a finding that
challenges Lakoffs assumption that tags demonstrate womens weakness. Lakoff also links
womens use of hedges with unassertiveness, claiming that their speech contains more hedges
becomes they are socialised to believe that asserting themselves strongly isnt nice or
ladylike, or even feminine. However, other studies have shown that there are different
functions of hedges and question the assumption that the frequent use of hedges is a
weakness. Janet Holmess analysis (1987) of hedges, in particular the you know phrase,
demonstrates their multi-functionality, while challenging Lakoffs assertion that women use
more hedges than men, as well as the claim that it is linked to lack of confidence.
On the other hand, the difference approach emphasises the claim that men and women come
from different social groups. Because male and females differ in the way they communicate,

Gray (1993) uses the metaphor that although men and women inhabit planet earth, they
actually come from distinct planets, Mars and Venus. Maltz and Borker (1982), proposed
that in North America at least, men and women come from different sociolinguistic subcultures. Describing conversations between men and women as cross-cultural, Maltz and
Borker argue that when the two genders try to communicate with each other, there may be
miscommunication. To cite an example, both men and women use the backchannel signal
mhmm, but they employ them differently. Whereas for women, it means Im listening, for
men it means Im agreeing and therefore such differences in interpretation can lead to
misunderstandings. Maltz and Borker thus conclude that the two genders have two separate
rules for conversational maintenance which come into conflict and cause massive

Deborah Tannen (1994), one of the proponents of the difference

approach, who also does not deny the existence of male dominance, has tried to show that
boys and girls are brought up differently and that part of the socialisation process is learning
gender-related language behaviour. Similarly, Jane Holmes (1992) points out that the the
differences between women and men in ways of interacting may be the result of different
socialisation and acculturation patterns.
Women are often regarded as the guardians of language because they tend to speak the
standard versions of the language and use variants of higher status more frequently than men
coming from the same social classes. In fact, William Labovs studies in New York (1966)
revealed noticeable gender differences in adult speech, especially womens tendency to
hypercorrect more than men do. For example, they overuse the postvocalic /r/ to the extent
that they sometimes insert an /r/ in a word that has no r in its written form, e.g. instead of
saying idea, they hypercorrect to idear (Labov 1966). Moreover, women are also said not
to employ the expletives and obscenities that men use, or if they do, they use them in
different circumstances or may be judged differently for using them; however the evidence is
not conclusive on these issue. For Lakoff (1975), the distinction between stronger and
weaker expletives (stronger expletives being attributed to men, and weaker expletives to
women) lies in how forcefully one says how one feels, [...] how strongly one allows oneself
to feel about something. According to her, the use of different words by men and women to
express their emotions calls attention to the inequality that exists between the treatment of
men and societys expectation of them, and the treatment of women: allowing men stronger
means of expression than are open to women further reinforces mens position of strength in
the real world. Thus, in Lakoffs view, societys condoning of mens ability to use strong

particles like damn or hell, and its expectation that a woman talks like a lady prevent
women from being taken seriously as an individual. Yet, the analysis of gender and language
should also take in consideration the social groups and classes to which the individuals
belong to. On the one hand, Hughes (1992) shows that working class women make frequent
use of taboo language, with one of the informants claiming that Its not swearing to us, its
part of our everyday talking. On the other hand, Labov (1971) concludes that in middleclass groups, women generally show much less familiarity with and much less tolerance for
non-standard grammar and taboo.
The conversational styles of men and women have also raised considerable interest in
sociolinguistic studies. According to Suzanne Romaine (1994), girls use language to create
and maintain cohesiveness and their activities are generally more cooperative and noncompetitive, whereas boys speech is used to assert dominance and to issue commands rather
than to put suggestions forward. An interesting finding is that in cross-gender conversations,
men interrupt women much more frequently than women interrupt men (Zimmerman and
West, 1975). This shows that interruption is a device for exercising power and control in
conversation (Zimmerman and West, 1983). According to James and Clarke (1993), when
women interrupt they do so in a way that seeks cooperation and rapport-building. So,
whereas women adhere more to the principles of turn-taking, ask more questions and
encourage others to speak by using more back-channelling signals, men interrupt more,
challenge others and try to control what topics are discussed.

Women and mens

conversational style, based on solidarity and power respectively, in a way reflect the
difference arising from the relationship of men and women in a patriarchal society.
All these studies demonstrate that male/female differences in language indeed exist.
Linguistic concerns such as conversation styles, vocabulary and other language behaviour
illustrate the fact that men and women have different communicative styles not only because
they seem to come from different subcultures, but also because of the existence of male
dominance in society. In a society, where the cultured construction of gender differences is a
highly significant category, language plays an important role and is inextricably linked to
gender and other social factors. As Jennifer Coates comments, gender differentiation in
language does not exist in a vacuum: it interacts in a complex way with other kinds of social
Explaining Gender Differences in Language Behaviour

While observing gender differences in language behaviour one is confronted with the task of
trying to explain them. Such explanations/claims include:
1. Languages themselves can be sexist
Feminists argue that language is made by men for men in order to represent their point of
view and perpetuate it. In this world-view women are seen as deviant and deficient. Sexism
in language can be demonstrated with many different kinds of evidence.
Words for women have negative connotations, even where the corresponding male terms
designate the same state or condition for men. Thus, spinster and bachelor both designate
unmarried adults, but the female term has negative overtones to it.
Because the word woman does not share equal status with man, terms referring to women
have under gone pejoration (become less elevated). Lord, for instance, preserves its original
meaning, while lady is no longer used exclusively for women of high rank. Master has not
lost its original meaning, but mistress has come to have sexual connotations and no longer
refers to the woman who has control over a household.
The prevailing world-view that everyone is male unless otherwise designated is manifested in
various ways in language as well as in models of linguistic analysis. Some analyses assume
maleness as the more basic semantic category and that that females are therefore to be
described as [ male].
Non-reciprocity of address to women is a feature of many societies. Women are also more
likely than men to be addressed by their first names.
2. Men and women are biologically different and this difference has serious consequences
for gender.
Women are somehow predisposed psychologically to be involved with one another and to be
mutually supportive and non-competitive. On the other hand, men are innately predisposed
to independence and to vertical rather than horizontal relationships. There appears to be little
or no evidence for this claim; it seems rather to be a clear case of stereotyping, which offers
no more than a facile solution to a difficult problem.

3. Social organisation is best perceived as some kind of hierarchical set of power

Language behaviour reflects male dominance. Men use what power they have to dominate
each other and women, and if women are to succeed in such a system, they must learn to
dominate others too. Men constantly try to take control, to specify topics and to interrupt.
Consequently, since women are relatively powerless they opt for more prestigious language
forms to protect themselves in dealing with the more powerful. Women may also have
weaker social networks than men but they show a greater sensitivity to language forms,
especially standard ones.
Lakoff (1975) adopts the position that men are dominant and women lack power. She points
out that one consequence is that womens language is usually discussed in relationship to
mens language. Womens language is the marked variety; mens language is the unmarked
variety, i.e. the norm.
4. Men and women are social beings who have learned to use language in different ways.
Language behaviour is largely learned behaviour. Men learn to talk like men and women
learn to talk like women because society subjects them to different life experiences. This is
often referred to as the difference view as opposed to the dominance view in (3).
Maltz and Borker (1982) propose that, in North America at least, men and women come from
different sociolinguistic sub-cultures. They have learned to do different things with language,
particularly in conversation, and when the two genders try to communicate with each other,
the result may be miscommunication.
Tannen is undoubtedly the best-known proponent of the claim that women and men have
been raised to live in different sub-cultures. Consequently, cross-cultural communication can
be difficult. In various accounts, Tannen has tried to show how boys and girls are brought up
differently. Part of the socialization process is learning not only gender-related activities and
attitudes but gender-related language behaviour. Gender differences in language become
established early and are then used to support the kinds of social behaviour males and
females exhibit.
As Holmes says, the differences between women and men in ways of interacting may be the
result of different socialisation and acculturation patterns.

Men and Women are Represented Differently

1. Sexist language is language that insults, patronises or ignores people on the basis of
their gender.
2. There is a lot more sexist language about women than men.
3. Some language implies that the male version is the norm, and the female version is
different or wrong.
Marked Terms - these are words that reveal a persons gender, e.g. policeman, wife.
Unmarked terms dont reveal the persons gender, e.g. police officer, spouse
Some words are marked by a feminising suffix, e.g. actress, usherette, comedienne.
The suffix implies that the male version is the original or the norm, so it seems superior to the
female version.
Generic Terms

This is when a marked term is used to refer both to men and women.
Its nearly always masculine terms which are used to mean people in general, rather

than just men.

The most common example is the word man, e.g. the noun mankind, or the verb to

man the desk.

Generic terms refer to everybody, but using them can make females seem invisible by
ignoring them. When this occurs, women are said to be occupying negative semantic

Lexical Asymmetry refers to pairs of words that appear to have a similar meaning, but arent
equally balanced, e.g. bachelor and spinster.

the connotations of bachelor are usually positive it is associated with a man living a

carefree, independent life

the connotations of spinster are usually negative it implies that the woman has been
unable to find a partner.

Patronising terms are words used by speakers that imply superiority over the persons
theyre talking to.

Terms that imply someone is younger than the speaker can be patronising, e.g. girls,
young lady.

Terms of endearment can be patronising in some circumstances, e.g. love, dear,

Whether a word is patronising or not depends on the context, e.g. a male employee
who addresses a female colleague as love could be seen as patronising, but boyfriends
and girlfriends calling each other love might not.

Grammar can be Sexist

The idea that the male is the norm is also evident in English grammar.

Pronouns the 3rd person masculine he or his is often used to refer both to men and
women, e.g. an employee who is absent for longer than five days must obtain a sick

note from his doctor.

Syntax when one gender specific word is always placed before another, its known
as order of preference. E.g. Mr and Mrs, men and women, Sir or Madam

Sexist Language can be Avoided and Changed

1. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975 to protect people from sexual
discrimination and harassment, especially at work and at school.
2. It reflected the work of feminist campaigners who wanted to promote equality
between men and women.
3. Part of this campaign was a push to get rid of sexist language.
4. The idea is that language doesnt just reflect sexist attitudes it helps to keep them
5. So if you change discriminatory language, then peoples attitudes might change too.
6. This is often called political correctness.
7. Sexist terms can be avoided by replacing them with gender neutral ones.
For example...

Marked terms can be replaced with unmarked terms, e.g. head teacher instead of

headmaster or headmistresses
Feminising suffixes can be dropped, e.g. a female manager is called a manager, not a

Instead of Mrs or Miss, the title Ms is often used, so you cant tell whether a woman

is married.
The generic use of man can be replaced by gender neutral terms, e.g. humankind
instead of mankind, workforce instead of manpower.

The generic use of the masculine 3rd person pronoun (he) can be replaced by he/she,
s/he, or they. Sentences can be made gender-neutral by using the plural instead.
o E.g. Employees who are absent for longer than five days must obtain a sick
note from their doctor.

People have different views about avoiding sexist language

The point of encouraging people to avoid sexist language is to ensure people will be
treated equally, and not feel theyre being singled out, or ignored, because of their

Sometimes there are problems with trying to control language in this way. People can
feel that its overbearing, and find it frustrating because they feel that they cant speak
freely without getting into trouble. Some people argue that this can create resentment

towards the group of people its designed to protect.

Its hard to enforce the use of non-sexist language. Some people think that
condemning all sexist language ignores content and intent, e.g. if everyone understand
that a comment is a joke, and nobody is offended by it, then its pointless to have laws
that stop people from making it.

Morphology is the study of the internal structure of words.
A morpheme is the smallest unit of language that expresses meaning or serves a grammatical
function; always a letter or a group of letters. For example, the word headphones consists of
three morphemes: head, phone, and s. The word ringleader consists of three morphemes,
ring, lead, and er. Some of these morphemes may stand alone as independent words (head,
phone, ring, lead), others must always be attached to some other morpheme (-er, -s).
A morpheme is internally indivisible; it cannot be further subdivided or analysed into smaller
meaningful unit.
Morphemes are represented within curly brackets {

}. We use capital letters for lexemes 4

and descriptive designations for other types of morphemes. For actress, the morphemes are
{ACTOR} and {f} (for [feminine].
Based on meaning, there are a number of types of morphemes, as shown in the following

Lexical Morphemes express lexical, or dictionary, meaning. They can be categorised into the
major lexical categories, or word classes: noun, verb, adjective, or adverb; these are
frequently called content words. They constitute open categories, to which new members
can be added. Lexical morphemes are generally independent words (free roots) or parts of
words (derivational affixes and bound roots).
3 Adapted from Brinton, L.J. and Brinton, D.M, The Linguistic Structure of Modern English
(Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2010)
4 Lexeme - all inflected forms of a word, conventionally represented in capital letters

Grammatical Morphemes express a limited number of very common meanings or express

relations within the sentence. They do not constitute open categories; they can be
exhaustively listed. Their occurrence is predictable by the grammar of the sentence because
certain grammatical meanings are associated with certain lexical categories, for example,
tense with the verb, and number and gender with the noun. Grammatical morphemes may be
parts of words (inflectional affixes) or small but independent function words belonging to
the minor word classes: preposition, article, demonstrative, conjunction, auxiliary, and so on,
e.g. of, the, that, and, may.
A bound morpheme is a morpheme that appears only as part of a larger word; it is a
morphological unit that may not stand alone as a word
Example: -ify (in ratify)
A free/unbound morpheme is one that can stand alone. Example: chair
A free morph is always a root. A root is a morphological unit that carries the principal lexical
or grammatical meaning of a word. It occupies the position where there is greatest potential
for substitution.
Example: {CRIME} in criminalize



Roots are also occasionally bound morphemes. These are called bound roots. A bound root
is a morphological unit that carries the principal meaning but may not stand alone as an
independent word. Bound roots are often foreign borrowings that were free in the source
language, but not free in English. For example, in the following set of words, we would all
identify the root vert, -mit, -ceive, or fer.

convert, revert, subvert, introvert, pervert


transmit, commit, remit, admit, omit, submit


conceive, receive, perceive, deceive


transfer, refer, prefer, defer, confer

However, -vert, -mit, -ceive and fer cannot stand alone as independent words, and we would
also find it very difficult to state the meaning of any of these roots, unless we know Latin,
from which these words derive: -vert is from Latin vertere meaning to turn, -mit is from
Latin mittere meaning to send, -ceive is from Latin capere meaning to seize, and fer is
from Latin ferre meaning to bring. You could say that the bound roots have a meaning only
if you know their history, or etymology. For these reason, they have been termed etymemes.
Unlike a root, an affix does not carry the core meaning. It is always bound to a root.
English has two kinds of affixes: prefixes, which attach to the beginnings of roots, and
suffixes, which attach to the end of roots.
Affixes may be of two types, derivational or inflectional, which have very different
A derivational affix in English is either a prefix or a suffix. There may be more than one
derivational affix per word. A derivational affix converts one part of speech to another (in
which case, it is class changing) and/or to change the meaning of the root (in which case, it is
class maintaining).
An inflectional affix in English is always a suffix. A particular inflectional affix attaches to
all (or most) members of a certain word class. The function of inflectional affixes is to
indicate grammatical meaning, such as tense or number.

Examples of Inflectional Affixes in English

Examples of Derivational Affixes in English

Adding -ful to beauty changes the word from a noun to an adjective (beautiful).
The derivational morpheme -er is used to transform the verb bake into the noun baker
The morpheme -ly changes the adjective quick into the adverb quickly.
Adjectives such as happy can be changed into nouns such as happiness by using the

derivational morpheme -ness.

The derivational affix ment changes the verb into a noun, e.g. agree + ment =

Words are analysed morphologically with the same terminology used to describe different
sentences types:

A simple word has one free root; e.g. hand

A complex word has a free root and one or more bound morphemes, e.g. unhand,
handy, handful, or it has two or more bound morphs, e.g. transference, reception,

A compound word has two free roots, e.g. handbook, handrail, handgun
A compound-complex word has two free roots and associated bound morphs, e.g.
handwriting, handicraft

Morphemic Analysis of Words:


3 morphemes {WRITE} + {-er} + {pl}


2 morphemes {AUTHOR} + {pl}


2 morphemes {MOUSE} + {pl}


2 morphemes {CHILD} + {pl}


2 morphemes {MAN} + {poss}


3 morphemes {MAN} + {pl} + {poss}


2 morphemes {SMALL} + {compr}


2 morphemes {SMALL} + {supl}


2 morphemes {SMALL} + {pos}


2 morphemes {WORK} + {past} / {WORK} + {pstprt}


2 morphemes (WRITE} + {past}


2 morphemes {WRITE} + {pstprt}


2 morphemes {WORK} + {pres}


2 morphemes {WRITE} + {pres}

Dialects, Sociolects, Idiolects

The word dialect refers to the variations of the standard language, often as spoken regionally or in
various social classes.
Social Variation
In many respects, social boundaries and class differences are as confining as the physical barriers that
often define regional dialects. It is therefore not surprising that different dialects of a language evolve
within social groups.
The social boundaries that give rise to dialect variation are numerous. They may be based on
socioeconomic status, religious, ethnic, and racial differences, country of origin, and even gender.
Dialects differences that seem to come about because of social factors, including socio-econimic
status, age, occupation and gender, are called social dialects (sociolects) as opposed to regional
dialects, which are spawned by geographical factors. However, there are regional aspects to social
dialects and, clearly, social aspects to regional dialects, so the distinction is not entirely cut and dried.
Sociolects can be described as the speech characteristics of members of social groups. Sociolects are
statements about group norms arrived at through counting and averaging. To the extent that the groups
are real, that is, that the members actually feel that they do belong to a group, a sociolect has validity.
The work of William Labov and Peter Trudgill, in particular, tries to describe the speech
characteristics of various social groups.
Distinguishing among and defining social classes in complex modern urban societies is probably
becoming more and more difficult. Nevertheless, Labov claims that the linguistic behaviour of
individuals cannot be understood without knowledge of the communities that they belong to.
In his study of linguistic variation in New York City, Labov (1966) used the criteria of education,
occupation and income to set up ten social classes. His class 0, the lower class, consisted of
labourers and had grade school education or less. His classes 1-5, the working class, had some high
school education and were blue-collar workers. His classes 6-8, his lower middle class, were high
school graduates and semi-professional and white-collar workers. His highest class 9, his upper
middle class, consisted of well-educated and professional or business-oriented people. In his later
study of variation in Philadelphia in 2001, Labov used a socio-economic index based on education,
occupation and house value.

Labovs early study in New York, regarded as the first major sociolinguistic study settling the pattern
for quantitative studies of linguistic variation, was a small-scale investigation of the post-vocalic (r)
variable. Labov believed that the r-pronunciation after vowels was being reintroduced into New York
speech and that it was more likely to occur as the formality level in speech increased. He tested these
hypotheses by asking for the location of departments which he knew to be situation on the fourth floor
in three New York department stores (Saks, Macys and S.Klein) which were rather clearly
demarcated by the social-class groups to which they catered (high, middle and low, respectively).
When answered, he sought a careful repetition of fourth floor by pretending not to have heard the
initial answer. From this study, Labov concluded that the members of the highest and lowest social
groups tend not to change their pronunciation after it becomes fixed in adolescence but members of
middle social groups do, possibly because of their social aspirations. Labov claims that nowadays the
promotion of the post-vocalic r is New York is considered as prestigious. It is associated with the
upper middle class even though members of that class do not always use such pronunciations. In
England, however, the opposite takes place. The upper middle class in Reading does not pronounce
the post-vocalic r. Therefore, the r-pronunciation after vowels shows both a geographic and a
significant social distribution. In an investigation of linguistic variation in Reading, England, Jenny
Cheshire (1758) focused on the (s) variable; the extension of third-person singular verbs marking to
all other persons, for example: I knows, you knows. Cheshire concluded that variation is controlled
by both social and linguistic factors.
In his study of linguistic variation in Norwich England, Trudgill (1974) distinguished between five
social classes Middle middle class (MMC), Lower middle class (LMC), Upper working class
(UWC), Middle Working Class (MWC) and Lower working class (LWC). Trudgill interviewed sixty
informants, who were then classified on six factors, namely occupation, education, income, type of
housing, locality and fathers occupation. His study was an attempt to relate linguistic behaviour to
social class, but he uses linguistic behaviour to assign membership in social class.
In this study, Trudgill investigated sixteen different phonological variables. He demonstrates, like
Labov does in New York, how the use of variants is related to social class and level of formality. He
analysed the variables (ng), (t) and (h) and showed that the higher the social class the more frequent is
the use of the (), (t) and (h) variants in words like eating, bottle and heart. The study shows that the
lower the social status, the higher the percentage of alveolar rather than velar nasal endings.
In 1995, Trudgill used data to demonstrate that when style is kept constant, the lower the social class,
the greater the incidence of non-standard variant. It was also shown that when class is kept constant,
the less formal the style the greater the incidence of the non-standard variant. The styles analysed

were word list, reading passage, formal and casual speech. It was found out that lower working
class speakers make no real distinction between the two speaking styles and use in pronunciations
almost exclusively in both.

Ronald Wardhaugh defines an idiolect as an individuals way of speaking, including sounds, words,
grammar and style. He comments that no individuals are exactly alike in their linguistic capabilities,
just as no two social situations are exactly alike. People are separated from one another by fine
gradations of social class, regional origin, and occupation, by factors such as religion, gender,
nationality and ethnicity; by psychological differences such as particular kinds of linguistic skills, e.g.
verbality or literacy; and by personality characteristics.
An individual also has a speech repertoire; that is, he or she controls a number of varieties of a
language or of two or more languages.

Standard English and RP English

Received Pronunciation (RP) this is the accent associated with educated people and
upper-class speakers of the language. It is sometimes known as BBC English or public
school English. Unlike other accents, it does not indicate a speakers regional origin.
The most recognisable examples of RP are how the Queen speaks, and the traditional speech
of BBC presenters.
Because RP has been seen as the standard, accepted way of speaking English, its the accent
many people are taught to use when they learn English as a foreign language.
Some features of RP:
Long vowel sounds in words like grass and castle
Long vowel sounds in words like under
Pronouncing h and t in words like hat and letter.
RP hasnt stayed the same
BBC newsreader still use Standard English, but they now speak it in a range of regional
accents. RP is still associated with educated and upper class speakers, but its association with
authoritative voices (like newsreader) has diminished.

Only a very small percentage of the population of Britain (less than 3%) still uses RP

in its traditional form

There has been a downward convergence and levelling of RP over the years. Speakers
may have modified the accent because its so distinctive. Levelling helps them to

integrate with the other language varieties in society.

The decline of RP is linked to the rise of Estuary English. Estuary English has become
increasingly widespread because Cockney speakers use it as a higher status variety,

and RP speakers converge on it as a standard variety in order to fit in.

Estuary English is viewed as a classless variety of English which has also helped it to
spread further than other varieties very few prejudices exist about an accent that can
be heard all over the country.

Standard English (SE) The dialect (vocabulary and grammar) associated with educated
users of the language. It is the form of English considered to be formally correct and is used
in most written text. Like RP, use of Standard English does not indicate regional origin SE
can be spoken with a regional accent.

A standard form of a language is one that is considered to be acceptable or correct by

educated speakers.
The Standard English used today started off as the regional dialect of the East
Midlands. Its influence spread around the country, and it became the dialect that was

used in print.
As more books were printed, variations in spelling and grammar were ironed out the

language started to conform towards a standard.

People began to codify the language (decide how to write it) in dictionaries and try to
regulate it by writing books of grammar rule. Johnsons dictionary, printed in 1755,

aimed to standardise spellings and meanings.

The standard form of the language became associated with education, class and
power, rather than any particular region.

Standard English it the most widely understood version of English, so its used in various

Formal Documents
Formal speech

Traditionally, RP and Standard English are linked the most prestigious ways of speaking
would be Standard English using RP. While lots of people speak Standard English with
regional accents, you dont generally hear people saying dialect words and phrases in RP.
Attitudes towards accents
People tend to make assumptions about others based on the way that they speak. Research
has consistently shown that people tend to make assumptions about others on the basis of
their accents. An accent tends to suggest to listeners that the speaker belongs to a particular
social group, and we often have stereotyped images of the members of these groups.

Research has focused on the ways different regional accents are perceived, and also on
reactions to Received Pronunciation (RP), the accent associated with upper class speakers of
the language.
Research findings concerning common attitudes towards accents include the following

RP is the most socially prestigious accent, associated with wealth and social status.
RP is an accent associated with competence and authority. In surveys it tends to
receive high ratings for such qualities as intelligence, self-confidence and
determination. However, RP English speakers emerge less favourably than speakers
with a regional accent in terms of their personal attractiveness. They score less well

for qualities such as sincerity, good-naturedness and sense of humour.

Rural accents (e.g. the Somerset accent) are viewed more positively than urban
accents (e.g. Cockney).

The Southern Irish accent also tends to gain a positive reaction, and is often praised for
having 'charm' and sounding 'soft' and 'warm' (it is noticeable how many Irish voices are
heard in broadcasting). Less popular are accents with urban associations, such as Cockney
and Liverpudlian. In particular, researchers have often found that the Birmingham accent is
the least liked.
The Howard Giles Capital Punishment Experiment
In the Howard Giles Capital Punishment Experiment, it was suggested that people find
regional accents more persuasive than Received Pronunciation, which is considered the most
prestigious accent. Giles presented five groups of students with an identical argument against
capital punishment. One group read a printed text, while the other four heard an oral
presentations. The four oral presentations were given by speakers with different regional
accents RP, Somerset, South Welsh and Birmingham.
The students were first asked about how impressed they were by the competence of the
presentations. Those who had read the printed text and those who had heard the RP speaker
were the most impressed. Least impressed were those who had heard the Birmingham

Giles then assessed the persuasiveness of the accents by comparing the students' views on
capital punishment before and after the presentations. Here he found that regional accents
scored most highly: those hearing regional speakers were more likely to have changed their
minds than those hearing the RP speaker or reading the printed texts.
Another research exercise conducted by the Worcester College of Higher Education
suggested that speakers with a Birmingham accent may be more likely to be presumed guilty
when suspected of a criminal offence. The research team hired male actors to reproduce
police interviews with suspected armed robbers and cheque fraudsters. The actors used the
Birmingham accent together with other accents and the resulting tapes were played to a large
group of students. The suspect with a Birmingham accent was more likely to be considered
guilty and was also regarded as less intelligent, less socially competent and more likely to be
poor and working class.
A variety of possible explanations can be offered for the prejudices people have towards
particular accents. The RP accent is associated with status and power (the royal family are
RP speakers, for example), so it is not surprising that it is associated with authority and
competence. However, because most people do not belong to this class themselves and feel
socially distanced from it, they do not see it as conveying friendliness and warmth.
People also make connections between accents and the regions from which they derive. Most
people have a positive view of the countryside (associating it with beauty and tranquillity), so
they respond favourably to rural accents. Correspondingly, urban areas have more negative
associations (such as traffic, pollution and crime) so urban accents are not viewed as
The stereotypes associated with particular accents are often reinforced and perpetuated by the
media. For example, the stereotype of the Cockney wideboy was reinforced by 'Only Fools
and Horses'. The Sun's portrayal of Liverpool fans after the Hillsborough disaster perpetuated
negative images of Liverpudlians. The RP accent is commonly heard on news broadcasts,
emphasising its association with authority.

Such attitudes towards accents can mean that people may encounter positive or negative
discrimination because of their accent:

In the field of employment, call centres are often located in certain parts of the
country because companies feel that their businesses will benefit from having
telephonists with particular accents. Popular locations for call centres include Wales,

Tyneside and Scotland.

Research suggests that the legal system may be biased against particular accents, and

that people with these accents are more likely to be suspected of crime.
Individual cases of discrimination are often reported in the press, with some
individuals changing their accents because of allegedly hostile attitudes. Convergence
may occur.5 People may move their accent closer to RP as they acquire (or attempt to
acquire) increased social status. Conversely, RP speakers may add regional features to
their accents so that it is easier for them to mix socially.

Regional Dialects
When various linguistic differences accumulate in a particular geographic region, the
language spoken has its own character. Each version of the language is referred to as a
regional dialect. In the United States, most dialectical differences are based on geographic
region. Regional dialects may differ in pronunciation, lexical choices and grammatical rules.

5 Language convergence is a type of language contact-induced change whereby languages with

many bilingual speakers mutually borrow morphological and syntactic features, making
their typology more similar

Register is a term used to describe variations in language according to use lawyers use a
legal register, doctors a medical register, and priests a religious register. When analysing an
example of spoken or written language, linguists ask questions about three areas of register.
Michael Halliday identified the three main influences on the variety of language as:

The mode
The manner
The field

The mode can either be spoken or written, although subdivisions can be identified where a
formal speech is written to be read aloud or a written record is made of spoken language. A
letter to the Prime Minister and an informal conversation with a friend, for instance, would
use different registers: one a written mode and the other a spoken one.
The manner describes the relationship between the participants and the formality or
informality of the context in which communication takes place. A written examination essay
does not aim to create a personal relationship with an unknown examiner because it is a
formal task, while a postcard to a friend is both informal and personal.
The field is linked to the subject matter by looking at the kind of words used, linguists can
come to the conclusions about the topic or focus of communication. A medical field, for
example, may use words like medicine, patient, asthma and inhalant, while a legal field may
use judge, fixed penalty, sentence and witness.
How registers differ
In considering the linguistic differences between registers, we can focus on three main
aspects of language use: lexis (vocabulary), grammar and phonology.

The appropriate register in any given situation employs suitable vocabulary. If two people are
having a conversation about computers, for instance, and both possess specialist knowledge
of the subject, the use of complex technical vocabulary would be appropriate. If the same
language was used when speaking to a child, however, it would mean that an inappropriate
register was being used. Some registers have their own distinctive vocabulary. Journalese,
for instance, is a term for vocabulary especially associated with newspaper. Journalese
includes words such as shock, horror, soar, plunge, blast, blaze, row and fury.
Sentence length and structure can be one way of identifying different written registers. Long,
complex sentences might be appropriate in an academic essay but would be inappropriate in a
childrens storybook. Long sentences with a large number of subordinate clauses are also a
characteristic of the register found in legal documents. Such texts have a number of other
distinctive grammatical features, such as the repetition of words and the use of passive
constructions. Ellipsis is a feature of some registers such as newspaper headlines.

Literary and Non-Literary Texts

Non-Literary Texts

Electronic and multi-modal texts

Although some texts (such as Shakespeare plays) are obviously literary, while others are
equally obviously non-literary, the division between the two kinds of writing is not always so
clear-cut. The private diary, for instance, is usually considered a non-literary genre, but many
would argue that Samuel Pepyss famous 17th century diaries are a work of literature. In terms
of language, many of the features we associate with literature (such as the use of simile and
metaphor) can be found in non-literary texts as well. So the list below of common ways of
distinguishing between literary and non-literary texts should be read with caution many
texts are hard to categorise, and no definition of what we mean by literature is completely
Literary texts can be divided into three broad genres: poetry, drama and prose
fiction. This is the most useful criterion; texts that fall outside these genres can
usually be described as non-literary.
Literary texts are usually imaginative rather than factual, while the opposite is true of
non-literary texts
Literary texts use language creatively, and compared to non-literary texts are more
likely to include such features as imagery, onomatopoeia, parallelism, rhyme and so
Literary texts are generally more valued than non-literary texts, and appreciation of
them may be more lasting. Many non-literary texts are intended to be only of
temporary use.
Literary texts usually have an artistic purpose, while non-literary texts often have a
clear practical purpose.
What is non-fiction?
When we talk about non-fiction, we generally mean writing which is rooted in real
experiences and which draws on factual information for its core content. Fiction generally
refers to writing that is largely imaginative or invented. Yet non-fiction writing can share
many of the same features as fiction writing, for example a description of a real-life trip to a

vibrant city might share many of the same vivid style features as the depiction of an imagined
city in a novel.
How would you classify the following?

Literary Texts

A novel is a piece of writing that is imagined or invented and allows us to enter the worlds
and lives of the characters. But what exactly is a novel you ask?
A novel is made up of many elements and it is more often than not an imaginative narrative,
which tells a story (plot) of imagined peoples lives (characters). Also, many novels explore
broad ideas (themes) and an author conveys a message to the reader about these ideas.
Elements of a novel
Plot the action of the story, what actually happens and/or takes place.
Orientation Complication Rising action Climax Resolution.
Characters many novels tell the story of an ordinary or believable main character, who is
often referred to as the protagonist.
Theme the theme is what the novel is about, it is not a summary of the events that take
place throughout the novel. The theme is the main idea, problem or message expressed
through the plot and characters.
Background or setting this is the time in history, and the geographical location in which
the novel unfolds. However, for some novels the background or setting does not play a big
part in the narrative, whereas, in others it is an essential part of the narrative. For example, in
Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone the setting is particularly important Hogwarts
School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Platform 9 and the Forbidden Forest present a vastly
different world from the one we live in.
Language it is important to note that the themes of a novel are also explored by the
language the author uses. When reading a novel it is important to understand the style of the
text, this means looking at the tone, language, sentence structure and imagery that is used by
the author, as well as who the target audience is and the purpose of the novel.
Other things to consider while reading your next novel
1. What does the novel reveal about the age, gender, society or culture of the author?

2. Is the author presenting a biased point of view of events, characters or places?

Short stories
A short story has all of the features of a novel, but as it is in a short self-contained form, it does
not have the luxury of unlimited words. A short story deals with a single event or situation, and as
a result every word must be carefully chosen to create the overall impression the author wants to

Unlike many other types of literary texts, poems often do not have a narrative; they do not tell full
stories. Instead, poems often seek to create an impression, or to evoke an emotion. While poetry
can be very flexible, and much of the challenge and enjoyment of poetry comes from the lack of
absolute rules, you should be aware of some common features of poetry. In order to be able to
understand poetry, it helps to understand form, voice, metre, rhyme and imagery.

The main characteristic that distinguishes plays from other literary forms is that plays are written
to be performed. Most modern plays are performed in theatres and on stages with sets that recreate the plays location, and with actors that play out the action and deliver the dialogue. One
interesting consequence that happens when staging a play is what happens to the narrative voice.
While the audience is able to see what the characters are like and what the play is about through
the characters, their dialogue and their actions, there is usually no narrator to guide the audience.
Therefore, without a narrator to help the audience, the playwrights need to make careful choices
to convey information about the characters and story.

The language of newspapers

The nature of newspaper language
In the 18th century, newspapers were used by the government as a means of promoting their
own interests. The structure and style were therefore formal. By the nineteenth century,
however, what can be described as modern journalism began with the appearance of
newspapers still popular today. By 1829, The Times was very powerful; 1821 marked the first
printing of the Manchester Guardian; later in the century, this was followed by the Daily
Mail (1896); and at the beginning of the 20th century, by the Daily Express (1900) and the
Daily Mirror (1903). Newspaper reporting became more scandalous, and style and form
changed to suit the new approaches. The British press became renowned for its distinctive
headline styles and its personal and idiosyncratic reporting.
Today, there is much debate about what makes a good news story. Journalist and academics
study newspaper reporting and find great variation in what different newspapers will print.
Anything unexpected or dramatic is newsworthy and bad news is always good news for
the journalists and editors trying to meet tight deadlines and sell papers. Equally, elite
persons, whether royalty, pop stars or politicians, make the front pages because many readers
like to know about the lifestyles and the scandals of the rich and famous. Editors look for
relevance in the stories they print culturally, socially or politically, the content must have
some direct bearing on the people of the country. Certain elite nations will receive more
coverage too we are more likely to read about the USA, for instance, than about a smaller
country that has fewer political, economic, cultural and historic links with Britain.
Continuity is important and newspapers like to be able to develop running coverage of an
event. To make abstract issues like politics and economics more engaging, journalists try to
personalise them: Gordon Brown is foregrounded, rather than his role as Prime Minister;
on her death the Princess of Wales was portrayed as an individual with ordinary emotions,
rather than as a distant princess to whom the ordinary public could not related. The NEWS
VALUES of newspapers govern the kind of stories which editors print. The choices made are
ultimately based on what will sell newspapers, both to reader and advertisers.
Having identified an audience that endorses or accepts their attitudes and ideas, journalists
can explicitly support a particular political viewpoint or social group. This can lead to bias

(favouring one viewpoint over another), which is evident in the lexical choice and in the
selection or exclusion of particular stories.
Newspaper formats
Newspapers have often been divided into two main categories: tabloid and broadsheet. This
is a very basic distinction and the terms mean different things to different people. In very
general terms, a tabloid paper is printed on A2-size paper, which folded to A3; this is
therefore smaller than the full spread of a broadsheet, which is printed on A1 and folded to
A2. All the mass-circulation papers are tabloid. The divide between big and small papers
goes further, however: broadsheet papers have also been called the serious or quality
press, while tabloid papers have been called the popular or gutter press.
The latter definitions go beyond the factual distinction of size and become judgemental and
evaluative. Dealing in very general terms, the broadsheets provide information, while the
tabloids provide sensation; the former aim for factual representation of the truth, whereas
the latter package stories for their entertainment value. More recently, a move to a compact
form brought The Times and The Independent to tabloid size. When the change was made the
editors insisted that the quality and style of these publications would not be affected.
The following table breaks down some of the key linguistic and typographical differences
between tabloids and broadsheets/compacts.

Some common graphological features (visual aspects) of newspapers are:

Banner headline at the top of the page, extends across the whole width
Strapline (or overline) additional headline above the main headline
Sub-headline (or sub-deck) subsidiary headline below the main one
Crosshead sub-heading that appears in the middle of a story, breaking up the text
Byline text that credits the writer; occasionally accompanied by a photograph
Standfirst introductory material separated from the main article
Reverse out when white print is used against a black background
Drop letter letter that is dropped down so that it extends over two, three, or more
lines; usually the first letter of an article
Caption word beneath a photograph or illustration

Features of Newspaper Language

Analysis of newspapers involves consideration of both headlines and reporting styles since
these will both reveal much about the ideology and aims of an individual paper.
There are three kinds of headlines:
The main headline will be larger than the others and may occasionally be in colour to
draw attention
The strapline or overline is the secondary headline that appears above the main one
it is used to provide extra information or to clarify the main headline
The sub-headline follows the main headline, and qualifies or elaborates it.
Just as the selection of news items and the balance of photographs to text differs between
broadsheets, compacts and tabloids, so too do the headlines. While the broadsheets may aim
for a factual interpretation of an event, the tabloids may look for sensation. Headlines can
serve a number of purposes, including

Conveying information
Creating drama, excitement and sensation
Persuasion may be intended to influence the readers point of view
Humour some headlines may aim to amuse

Each of the above headlines reports the same event: the midnight opening of a new store in
North London for the popular Swedish furniture retailer Ikea. The Guardian uses retrained
language to convey a sense of the chaos, which it sees as the responsibility of the store the
use of the passive voice brings Ikea to the front of the sentence, giving it additional stress.
The Daily Star, on the other hand, focuses on the violence. The connotations of the words, the
initial position of the number and the pun on chav and avalanche suggest that
responsibility lies with the people who created the riot. The approach is sensational rather










broadsheets/compacts and in tabloids.

To catch readers attention, headlines need to be simple, easily readable and appropriate to
the kind of newspaper in which they are printed. The choice of words for headlines is affected
by the ideas to be expressed, the kind of reader associated with the paper, and the papers
house style. Typographically, broadsheets/compacts and tabloids have quite different
approaches. Tabloids frequently use capitalisation and colour to draw attention to a front-page
report blue or purple print, or white printed on a blue or purple background, may be used
for a royal headline, while the death of a famous person may be headlined in white print on a
black background. Broadsheets/compacts, on the other hand, are much more conservative:
they rarely capitalise whole headlines, and use colour for the main front-page photographs,
for advertisements and for some features.
The lexis chosen indicates something about the political persuasion of the newspaper and
about the intended audience. By analysing connotations of the words chosen and the point
of view conveyed, it is possible to come to conclusions about the aim of a report. During a
murder investigation, for instance, newspapers report events in different ways. The three

headlines below, taken from newspapers on the same day, each use a different approach to
report the events:

The Suns headline foregrounds the emotive noun phrases DEAD BABIES. This, along with
the simple sentences that follows, dramatises the report. The use of the dynamic present tense
verb search and the cardinal number create a sense of immediacy, while the abbreviated
familiar grans of the sub-headline enhances the sensational aspect of the case. To attract
readers attention, the comfortable connotations of this possessive noun modifier and the head
noun home are set against the horrific nature of the supposed crime.
The Guardian adopts a different tone: it deals in fact rather than sensation. The main headline
focuses on the response of local people, using estate as a collective noun that unites residents
in their common experience. The connotations of shock suggests disbelief, and this is
reinforced by the post-modified noun phrase of the strapline, in which the link between the
head word grandmother and the noun phrase pillar of community draws attention to the
suspects past achievements. The approach is more impersonal than that of The Sun: the full
word grandmother is a more formal term of address; the emotive noun phrase three bodies is

kept away from the front of the audience; and the use of the noun suspect recognises that the
women has not yet been proven guilty.
The Daily Express falls between these 2 extremes. The emotive dynamic verb ripped apart,
with its connotations of urgent and unchecked action, and the emotive modifier tiny highlight
sensational aspects of the case. This appeal to readers emotions, however, is balanced by a
more formal presentation of the facts. In addition, the tabloidese shorthand for investigation
(probe) reminds us that this case is still under review. By combining a detached tone with the
more emotive elements of the report, the middle-marked paper can provide its readers with
both facts and sensation.
The style of headlines is important: they need to be simple, but must also create impact.
Broadsheets/compacts and tabloids aim to fulfil these criteria in very different ways. The
headlines accompanying a broadsheet report will usually be informative and straightforward:

A tabloid, however, will aim for a different kind of simplicity. Puns are common and
headlines will often disrupt collocations. This gives the headlines a less formal tone and can
suggest that the journalists are not being completely serious about the issue. On the other
hand, the tabloids informal approach and their emphasis on human-interest stories can result
in a very personal and emotive appeal to their readers:

In the first example, the newspaper alters the well-known army command Attention! to
discuss the creation of a new kind of trainer designed and tested by the army. The repetition
of the traditional left, right marching order immediately sets the context and the replacement
of attention with atten-shoe creates humour.
The second headline describes an incident in which police questioned a man who was driving
a vehicle in spite of the fact that he was totally blind. It uses patterning for dramatic effect.
While the repetition of the negative (no) and the subject-specific nouns (MoT, insurance,
license) are commonplace in a report on car crime, the final noun phrase is unexpected. The
headline is therefore eye-catching: it builds towards a climax, taking readers from the
ordinary to the extraordinary.
The structure of headlines is easily recognisable. Many are noun phrases. Headlines differ
from everyday language in their omission of many of the grammatical function words, copula
verbs and auxiliaries. Determiners are often deleted from the noun phrases. This is one of the
characteristic features of headline writing, marking it out as a distinctive variety of English.
The structure is often described as telegraphic.
Some headlines comprise one simple sentence.
Some headlines use the passive voice to focus the readers attention on a particular
Headlines are often characterised by words that are short, attention-getting and effective.
Headlines often play on the potential for ambiguity that can exist in the relationship between
word and meaning. For example, the headline Dr Schmidt will Maintain Swiss Role is

ambiguous because the phrase Swiss role is a homophone of the phrase Swiss roll.
Serious stories may therefore be headlined by linguistic jokes. The potential for ambiguity in
headlines can also be realised through homonyms, polyseme and metaphorical associations.
The language of headlines may also consist of intertextual references to familiar phrases and
sayings, depending on the culture of the newspapers readership. For example, the headline
Explorers letter comes in from the cold (ABC News, September 14, 2009) makes reference
to the title of John le Carrs novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Another instance
of intertextuality is the reference to the film Silence of the Lambs in The Guardian Weeklys
headline Silence of the Damned (March 1-7, 2001) to an article on humanitarian crises in
Africa and Afghanistan. The reference here is given additional impact because the follow-up
to the movie had been recently released. Moreover, such a title is suitable because it
compares the horror depicted in the film with the torment of the potential humanitarian crises
described in the article. Words that carry particular strong connotations are effective not only
because they attract the attention of the reader, but also because they can be emotionally
Most headlines have a telegraphic style in that complete sentences are generally avoided
(this is known as compression). Lexical words are given far more importance than
grammatical words such as determiners or auxiliary verbs. The headline writer also usually
omits verbs. Instead the action is frequently nominalised. This can distance the word or
phrase from the actual action of the event.
News discourse
A journalistic text accomplishes many social tasks, which are reflected in the different
registers which constitute media discourse. News is a type of discourse, which far from
reflecting social reality objectively, intervenes in what Berger and Luckmann (1966) call the
social construction of reality, as cited by Fowler (1991: 2).
Chimombo and Roseberry (1998) illustrate the significant features and registers of news
media discourse by using a transcript of a BBC television news item broadcast of September
1, 1993 and five different reports in British newspapers as a point of reference. The broadcast
news was about the expectation of a peace settlement in the Middle East, whereas the five
reports appearing in the press dealt with the actual signing of the Middle East Peace Accord
of September 13, 1993.

Chimombo and Roseberrys analysis of the news reports shows that, culturally these reveal
aspects of our view of the world and our place in it. Cultural elements are considered in news
discourse. These involve not only the content of the articles, but also the reporters position in
relation to the event. There are various ways in which text producers can monitor and
manipulate the events or situation that they are reporting about. The way people are referred
to in news reports can have different impacts on the readers.
Chimombo and Roseberry give examples from the reports they analysed. For instance,
reporting for The Daily Telegraph, Stephen Robinson referred to Mr Yasser Arafat, PLO
chairman and Mr Yitzhak Rabin, The Israeli prime minister, whereas the reporter Maurice
Weaver referred to them as the Palestinian rebel and Israels Prime Minister respectively.
In the Daily Mail report, the two leaders were referred to as the Israeli premier and the
mastermind of a long terrorist war against Israel. Another way of manipulating texts is
staging by referring to the nonverbal language of the participants (Chimombo and
Roseberry, 1998). For example, The Guardian referred to the merest flicker of hesitation and
nudge from Mr Clinton in Mr Rabin, when Mr Arafat offered his hand.











broadsheets/compacts. The former tends to use simple and compound sentences. When
subordinate clauses are used, they are kept reasonably short so that readers to not have to
retain large amounts of information. Broadsheets and compacts, on the other hand, use a
wider variety of sentence structures. Paragraphs in a tabloid paper are rarely more than three
sentences long and can be no more than one sentence in length; broadsheets and compacts,
however, develop paragraphs more fully. These grammatical differences are not always clearcut, however, since broadsheets and compacts now use features traditionally associated with
tabloids. Linguists therefore need to be able to recognise the distinctive grammatical features
of both the popular and the serious press, and also any variations.

The sentence type in news reports is usually declarative. This is the form most often
associated with the distribution of information. It accords well with the formal tone that
quality newspapers such as The Times adopt, and helps give the content of the article the
status of verifiable fact (Reah, 1998: 102). Popular papers such as The Sun, however, make

use of more exclamatory and minor sentences, which are typical of spoken languages,
thereby giving the article a conversational style. These create a sense of emotion, which is
shared with the reader. Whale (1977: 78) pointed out:
Popular papers keep the demand as gentle as they can: they deal in short words, short
sentences, few paragraphs of more than a single sentence, few articles of more than a few
paragraphs, and a great many pictures.

Van Dijk also analyses grammatical structures of language in media discourse. He finds out
that news reports tend to have many nominalisations, such as disruption instead of they
disrupted and formal jargon borrowed mostly from politics (1988: 10). Since English is a
nominalising language, it is structurally possible and common for predicates to be realised
as nouns. Nominalisation is especially used in official, bureaucratic and formal modes of
discourse (Fowler: 79). The style of a newspaper is characterised with nominalisation and this
offers many opportunities for the articulation of events from a particular ideological position.
The following is a typical news passage from The Guardian of July 4, 1986:
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Tom King, rejected a call in the Commons yesterday to
delay the inquiry into the Royal Ulster Constabulary until completion of investigations into
allegations against Mr John Stalker, the Greater Manchester deputy chief constable, who was
originally heading the RUC inquiry.
Moreover, news discourse is characterised by the passive voice and the inverted declarative
sentence structure (Van Dijk, 1988: 10), the latter of which rarely features in other types of
discourse. Van Dijk gives the following example: instead of saying Reliable sources declared
that Libya has been attacked by the US Air Force, it is more common to say Libya has been
attacked by the US Air Force, reliable sources declared (p. 11). This fronting of important
information is a commonplace in news reports. The journalists use of passive structures
helps to give the article the level of formality required by the approach it takes to the story
(Reah 1998: 105). Like nominalisation, the passive mood distances and removes the agent
from the events that take place. It reorients the story so that it is more about the patient rather
than the agent, especially because it allows part of the clause, such as the agent, to be deleted,

thereby leaving responsibility unspecified. By contrast, the active is chosen when the focus is
to be on the agent of the action to imply clear responsibility (Fowler: 78).
Media discourse may also characterised by an element of persuasion. Van Dijk (1988: 16)
discusses the various operations through which a language can be formulated to enhance
persuasion. These include phonological operations, such as rhyme or assonance, syntactic
operations such as parallelisms, semantic operations such as comparisons and metaphors and
other sentence meanings which bring out contrasts or build a climax. Hyperbolic words and
understatements can also be used for rhetorical effect. These contribute further to the
coherence of news information and help the reader remember the information within the text.
Similarly, news reports in print use numbers and statistic to indicate their accuracy and
objectivity (Roeh, 1982). This is contrasted to broadcast news reports, which usually contains
as few figures as possible because a collection of figures can confuse the ear. It is generally
suggested that in broadcast news, numbers should always be rounded up or down to make
them easier to assimilate (Boyd & al., 2008: 104). Intonation patterns in spoken news
bulletins may be used for emphasis, mitigation or contrast.
Lexical and syntactic patterns are important aspects of discourse. The headlines and main text
of newspaper reports often contain elements of reference, coreference and significant
instances of exophora and deixis. Exophora is defined as reference in a text to something
external to it, which is only fully intelligible in terms of information about the extralinguistic
situation (OED). With exophoric references in the press, it is assumed that the reader has
some shared knowledge or has followed other stories related to the topic. For example, in the
following text, one assumes that the audience knows that the entire privatisation
programme refers to the British governments sell-off in 1989 of the entire public water
service into private hands (McCarthy 1991: 40):
Eighty per cent of Britains sewage works are breaking pollution laws, according to a report
to be published this week. The cost of fulfilling a government promise to clean them up will
run into billions, and put the entire privatisation programme at risk.
(The Observer, 4 December 1988: 3, as cited by McCarthy, 1991)
Time deictic references are also frequent in new discourse. They function as a link between
sentences and to distinguish between the moment of the utterance and that of the action.
Chimombo and Roseberry (1998: 326) provide the following example:

This was the historic moment yesterday when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli
Premier Yitzhak Rabin grasped tentatively at peace. (Daily Express)
Another characteristic of news discourse is the use of idiomatic expressions and metaphors.
Although such words are usually associated with conversation, it has been shown that they
occur in informative texts as well (Henry & Roseberry, 1995, cited in Chimombo &
Roseberry, 1998: 330). As expected, such expressions are also found in television broadcast
news, which is comes closer to conversational discourse.
Another common practice of news discourse is the use of hedges in news discourse. In A
Dictionary of Stylistics, Katie Wales defines hedging as the qualification and toning-down
of utterances and statements (...) in order to reduce the riskiness of what one says (2001:
185). The following are examples of hedges found in Chomombo and Roseberrys analysis
(p. 331):
- The PLO system appears to be delaying [BBC]
- Rabin seems to avoid [Arafats] eyes ... (Daily Express)
- The agreement ... may or may not signify a lasting peace (The Independent)
There are various ways in which lexical cohesion can be achieved within a text. Apart from
the use of words and phrases from a particular semantic field, the use of synonyms within the
same text is also frequent, for example was hit, severely damaged. Moreover, the
reference in the text often moves from the specific to the general. This means that the same
thing is referred to, but the first reference has more detail. For example in the report of May
4, 1982 about the attack on the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano that appeared in the
Times, the cruiser is first referred to as The 14,000-ton Argentina cruiser General Belgrano,
then as the cruiser or simply it. The level of formality in a news report differs from one
paper to another. For example, the populist tabloid newspaper The Sun refers to the same
event as a brawl in which the participants had been asking for trouble and even refers to the
Argentineans as Argies. By contrast, the Times represents the war as a serious event, using
phrases such as fully in accordance with, severely damaged and posed a significant
threat (cited in Reah, 1998: 96).

To conclude, news discourse is a major element of language that we experience in our daily
routine. As Bagnall (1993: 1) puts it, the language of journalism is closer to the spoken word
than (...) it ever was in the past.

Newspapers use both direct and indirect speech they may directly quote the exact words
spoken by an individual or they may report these words indirectly. By interweaving direct
quotations, journalist can vividly recreate the personal experiences of ordinary people, and
they can allow eminent people to voice their views accurately and directly without
intervention. Tabloids often quote eminent people directly to encourage a feeling that even
the rich and famous are ultimately the same as their readers; and they quote ordinary people
to make their readers feel that they have a voice. Broadsheets/compacts tend to use direct
quotation to add weight to their arguments, allowing people to prove their points in the words
they wish to use. The use of quotations can also vary the pace of an article, making it more
interesting to read. Formal speeches can be summarised so that the newsworthy points are
highlighted. Interviews with ordinary people unaccustomed to speaking in public context can
be tidied up, eliminating non-fluency markers.

What to look for in newspapers

The following checklist can be used to identify key features in examples of different kinds of
newspaper reporting. Remember that you need to evaluate the effect of the features you
identify, exploring the ways in which they create meaning.
What is the mode?
o Written
What is the manner?
o Formal or informal relationship between participants (journalist and reader)?
o Ideology?
o Function (to perform, persuade, entertain, etc.)?
What is the field?
o Subject matter
o Journalists approach
o Linked to the audience, purpose and context?

What is noticeable about the style?
o Easily readable? Simple?
o Appropriate?
o Impact created?
What are the connotations of words chosen?
What kinds of modifiers are used?
What point of view or ideology is conveyed?
Are the words chosen formal or informal?
Are the modifiers used to express precise detail or to make the report emotive or
How are participants named?
o Use of titles? Use of first names or surnames?
o Use of abbreviated, familiar names?
What are the connotations of words?
o Noun to describe people and things?
o Verbs to describe action and processes?
o Associations?
What kinds of adverbials are used?
o Time? Place? Manner?
What is the structure?
o Noun phrase?
o Simple/compound/complex sentence?
Do the straplines and subheadlines explain or qualify the main headline?
Is the passive voice used?
Is there any ambiguity?
o Accidental?
o Intentional, to create humour or to add interest?
Is the sentence structure varied?
o Simple/compound/complex? Variety?
Are there any initial-position conjunctions?

o To create a conversational tone?

o To control the length of sentences?
Is there any direct speech?
o Ordinary or authoritative speaker? Formal or informal tone?
o To add weight to an argument or to give ordinary peoples views?
o To vary the pace?
Is there any indirect speech?
o To summarise formal speech?
o To paraphrase the speakers words and make them more fluent?
Is the sentence organisation designed to influence the reader?
o Marked themes to highlight a clause element other than the subject in the
initial position?
o Foregrounding of adverbials to provide extra information?
o Passive voice to alter the position of the object for emphasis?
o Are by + agent included or omitted?
Are there any literary devices?
o Metaphors and similes to establish a narrative atmosphere or to make the
report more dramatic or the abstract issues concrete?
o Symbolism to force the reader to make connections?
o Clever or comic puns?
o Unusual or unexpected words or descriptions?
Is there any sound patterning to underpin meaning, create humour or make a report
more memorable?
o Alliteration, rhythm, rhyme?
Are there any rhetorical devices?
o Antithesis juxtaposing words or key concepts for dramatic effect or
contrasting particular viewpoints?
o Listing building to a climax or an anti-climax, creating emphasis or
developing a serious or comic tone?
o Patterning to emphasise important attributes or contrasts?
o Repetition of words, phrases or clauses to highlight key points and make the
report more dramatic or noticeable?
Are there any official sources giving authority to evidence?
o Police? Emergency services? Courts? Investigating bodies? The government?
Are there any unofficial sources that allow people to have a voice?
Typographical features

Does capitalisation attract readers?

Is there any variation in print size to draw readers into the report?
Is colour used, drawing on wider symbolic associations to enhance meaning?
Do images dramatise or support the story?

The following checklist can be used to identify key features in examples of advertising.
What is the mode?
o Spoken or written?
o Newspaper, magazine, billboard, radio or television? Internet?
What is the manner?
o Formal or informal relationship between participants (the advertiser and the
reader or viewer)?
o Persuasive or informative?
o Personal or impersonal?
What is the field?
o Advertiser and target audience?
o Subject matter?
o Linked to the audience, purpose and context?
Overall design
What kinds of images are used?
o People? Settings? Props?
o Literal or symbolic? Cultural stereotypes?
How does the copy anchor the image?
What effect does the juxtaposition of slogan, logo and copy have?
What is noticeable about the slogan?
o Structure? Puns? Disrupted collocations?
Is anything significant about the lexical choice?
o Positive descriptions of a product? Information about an issue?
o Formal or colloquial language? Subject-specific lexis?
o Ambiguity to add interest or amuse the reader or viewer?
Are the noun phrases simple or complex?
o Pre- or post-modification?
o Technical or emotive words?
Is anything significant about the modifiers?
o Physical or emotive qualities? Trigger words? Link to price?
o Strings? Compound words?
Are there any examples of language that has influenced the contemporary word stock?
o Colloquial expressions? Coinages? Clichs?
Are there any possessive forms of nouns used for inanimate objects?
Are there any neologisms?

o Words or phrases which make a brand memorable because the advertising

campaign manipulates language?
Are there any links to spoken language?
o Contractions or colloquial language?
o Abbreviated or disjointed sentences?
o Initial-position conjunctions?
Does the mood change?
o Declarative to make statements about a product or service?
o Interrogative to involve the reader or viewer in decision-making?
o Imperative to reinforce the function of the advertisement?
Are there any tense changes?
o Simple present to establish the key features of a product or the present state of
o Simple past tense and perfect aspect to develop comparisons?
o Future time to propose potential changes?
o Modal verbs to imply certainty or possibility?
Is there anything noticeable about the sentence structure?
o Verbless clauses to reflect the disjointed and abbreviated grammatical forms of
spoken language and to break the copy into easily readable chunks?
o Short sentences to avoid alienating readers or viewers?
o Longer sentences to reflect the subject matter and the message conveyed?
Is the sentence organisation designed to influence the reader or viewer?
o Marked themes to focus attention on key points?
o Foregrounding of adverbials to provide extra information that the advertiser
believes is important in making the target audience act in a certain way?
o Repositioning of the object in an active sentence to the initial position of a
passive sentence to create emphasis?
Are there any literary devices?
o Metaphors and similes to evoke emotive associations in the mind of the reader
or viewer?
The function of advertising
The main function of advertising is to persuade (conative function); its subordinate function
is to provide information (referential function). Different kinds of advertising use different
techniques to persuade and inform. Some use the copy to provide information like the size,

the brand name, the price and the address and telephone number of the shop or company,
relying on the product itself to promote sales. Other advertisements highlight a particular
background as more important than the product, so that the image of the product is the
selling point. Others rely on the associations between the product and a particular context
dreamlike fantasies, for instance, may suggest the products potential for changing an
individuals life.
The function of the advertisement is to persuade you to buy. Although information may be
provided, it will not be neutral because there is an implicit purpose: the advertiser has chosen
the content and the language of the advertisement primarily to influence rather than to
Advertisements, however, do more than just sell products different advertisers have
different purposes. The following table summarises the main kinds of advertiser and their
main functions:

Features of advertising language

Inevitably, advertisements designed for a visual medium like television or the cinema screen
will be dominated by images, and usually these will be more important than any
accompanying spoken or written words. However, prosodic features like intonation, pace and
rhythm will influence the viewer, and the use of a written slogan can make the product more
memorable. In print forms like newspapers and magazines, advertisements rely on a

combination of copy and image - it is the balance of the two that is important. Because print
is not transient, as an image on the screen is, it can be reconsidered: the written language
accompanying the image can therefore be more extensive.
Advertisements for different media use different techniques, but a number of features are
common to both spoken and written examples. First, it is always important to establish:

The advertiser
The target audience
The function of the advertisement or its message
The selling techniques
o A product-based approach praises the features of a product or service,
hoping to win the customers on the strength of the product or service itself
o An audience based approach tries to convince the target audience that they
need a particular product or service; by concentrating on practical needs.

Language of Advertising
Modifiers are a distinctive feature of advertising language because of their power in
attracting attention. By using them in strings, advertisers can arouse emotions, stimulate
desires and so on. Because they allow advertisers to evoke the kind of image they want to
associate with a particular product or service, modifiers are described as trigger words.
Some, like big, long, or double, indicate physical qualities that can to some extent be proved;
others, like wonderful, elegant or incredible, are intangible and so cannot be measured.
Advertisers often use these quality words precisely because they are vague. The most
common adjectives are good, better, best, free, special, great, real, new and big, all of which
create a positive image without really telling the consumer anything about the product or
service. Other modifiers related directly to price: the verb reduced, the adjective cheap and
the noun bargain can all modify the noun prices. Compound phrases can be used to suggest
that products have special features. By combining adjectives, noun, adverb and verb
modifiers, advertisers can convey a sense of a products uniqueness:
Do you want radiantly-glowing naturally-coloured full-styled hair? Then try our new haircare range.
Because each new campaign must attract attention, advertising language is often innovative.
Advertisers coin new words (neologisms) to make a brand more memorable.

New words are also coined by using the brand name of an item as the basis for a word. Often
non-standard spelling will be used to attract attention:

The language works alongside the picture to reinforce the intended message. Each lexical
choice must make a particular product or service more memorable because space in print
advertisements and time for television advertisements cost money. The lexis must therefore
convey the essential points in a concise and dramatic way. This makes the language of
advertising almost like a shorthand code every word included has a specific function.
The grammar of adverts is also similar to informal spoken language. It can be disjointed and
abbreviated. Slogans will often omit verbs to make a catchphrase more concise and striking.
Imperatives are used frequently because consumers are being urged to buy, give or join.
Through variations in mood, the advertisers appeal to their target audience to take notice and
to act.
Verb tenses allow the advertisers to implicitly convey differences in the semantics. Simple
present tense emphasises the features of a product; simple past tense and the perfect aspect
allow advertisers to draw comparisons; and future time, often constructed using the modal
verb will, makes assumptions about what is possible if the consumer uses a particular product
or service.
Pronouns help advertisers create a personal relationship with customers. By using the second
person pronoun you, advertisements can appeal directly to readers or viewers, aiming to

make them feel special. Other interactive features, like coupons to save money on a
particular product or forms to complete and return, also encourage the consumers direct
Sentence structures are unusual because elements are often left out in order to keep
sentences short. Verbless clauses are common and sentences are often divided in unexpected
ways to keep the copy simple for the reader. This means that sentences can be literally
ungrammatical, although they do convey meaning.
Sentences are often simple and co-ordination is more common that subordination. Coordinating conjunctions are often used in the initial position, as is typical of informal
spoken language:
Free trade sounds like a great idea. But if its not between equals it doesnt work.
This kind of structure gives a separate emphasis to each clause and is therefore useful since it
allows advertisers to highlight a number of key points. Adverbials are also placed at the
beginning of sentences to emphasise key information:
Located at the heart of the Mediterranean basin, this breathtakingly beautiful island is
crammed with things to do and see.
Sentence organisation uses grammatical patterning to arrange the elements of a sentence in
order to draw attention to key information. It allows advertisers to control the order in which
we receive information.
Advertisements use literary devices to attract attention to the product, often breaking the
rules of conventional language. They can construct different layers of meaning: metaphors
link emotive associations to a product, building up an impression that will influence potential
consumers; symbolism encourages viewers or readers to make certain connections that will
colour their view; personification or animation of inanimate objects can create a mysterious
or comic atmosphere; and puns can be clever or humour in their manipulation of language.
Ambiguity can both create humour and provoke interest through the double meanings it
promotes. Sound patterning (alliteration, rhyme, rhythm) makes slogans and advertisements
stand out.

Rhetorical devices create patterns at the level of words and clauses. Antithesis sets key
words or ideas in opposition for dramatic effect or to distinguish between different attitudes
or brands; listing indicates specific features that may attract the buyer; patterning balances
similar or contrasting features to draw attention to a product or its features; repetition
highlights key points or a particular brand name.
The typographical features of advertising are also important because they can help
consumers to identify certain brands or products. Print size and shape, colour and layout are
often used consistently throughout a campaign, and these become as significant as the
language in persuading readers and viewers to act in the way the advertisers intend.


Broadly speaking, language has two modes: speech and writing. However, these can be
broken down further into different types or genres. The spoken mode, for instance, includes
everything from everyday social conversation to formal interviews and political speeches,
while the written mode includes diaries, letters, magazine articles and so on.
In recent years, some commentators on language have added a third mode: electronic
language. Examples of this mode are text messages, emails, websites and blogs. Many
electronic texts can also be termed multimodal.
The term multimodal is used in two ways:

It can refer to a text or genre which communicates with its audience in a variety of
different ways. A television weather forecast, for example, usually involves the

simultaneous use of speech, visual images and written text.

The term is also used for crossover texts which cannot be simply labelled speech or
writing. Electronic texts such as emails and text messages, which are written while
also having many of the features associated with speech, fall into this category.


Not all emails differ significantly from their traditional written equivalents: some are very
similar to letters. However, it is also the case that many emails do have distinctive linguistic
characteristics. In particular, the informality of email, together with the interactive
relationship between senders and receivers (especially evident in Internet chatrooms), make it
a form of written communication that is in many ways close to spoken language. Significant
features of email language include:

Lexis is often conversational, with the frequent use of colloquialism and

contractions. There is more tolerance of spelling errors than in traditional texts:

messages are typed out quickly, and are not usually checked for errors
Greetings and farewells illustrate the informality of the medium. Hi has become a
standard way of opening messages, though sometimes greetings are dispensed with
altogether as the names of sender and receiver automatically appear at the top of the

Grammatical features include loosely constructed sentences, which resemble the
natural flow of speech. In order to type messages more quickly, some punctuation
marks may be omitted, and lower case letters used where standard grammar would

usually require capitals.

Various methods are used to suggest the prosodic features of speech, such as stress
and tone of voice. These include upper case letters to indicate emphasis, non-standard
spelling to suggest pronunciation and multiple punctuation marks (especially
exclamation marks) to convey intonation: I was SOOooo PLEASED to see you last

A large number of abbreviations are used in emails, Internet chatrooms and mobile
phone text messages. Initialisms and acronyms are two types of abbreviations. An
acronym is a set of initials pronounced as a word, such as NASA. With initialisms the

separate letters are pronounced individually, as in BBC or MP.

Emoticons (also known as smileys) are graphical symbols used to represent facial
expressions and body language: smile sad, displeasure {} a hug

Text Messages
The main influence on text messaging style is the need to keep messages as short and concise
as possible. The small screen size and the small keypad encourage compression, and shorter
messages also take less time to compose. In addition to abbreviations and emoticons,
linguistic features found in text messages include:

Words are shortened, as in TXT (for text), and TLK (for talk). As these examples

illustrate, it is often vowels that are dropped.

Phonetic spelling, as in LUV (for love).
Letter homophones, as in C (for see), and U (for you)
Number homophones, as in 2 (for to) and 4 (for for)
Grammatical compression (ellipsis) determiners, auxiliary verbs, etc. are often

omitted from sentences, and punctuation marks may also be missing.

Informal lexis

Some websites only differ from traditional written texts in that printed material is presented
on a screen rather than on a page, but others have features that make websites a distinctive
form of text:

The way material is organized and presented is influenced by the dimensions of the
screen. Text that runs along the top or bottom of the screen, or down the margins, is

Much of the text is non-linear. Traditional linear text is read progressively from the
top of the page to the bottom, but on websites separate sections of text occupy
different parts of the screen, and we do not read them in a fixed sequence. There may
be a main body of text, but additional material, such as advertisements and links to

other pages or sites, is also usually present.

Partly because of the size of the screen, information is broken down into manageable
segments. Headings, lists and summaries are common and paragraphs are generally

Graphological features are important, with the use of colour, animation and visual
images. In written text colour coding or underlining may be used to indicate hypertext

Websites are much more interactive than traditional written texts. If you are buying
goods or booking a flight, for example, you will be asked to provide information in a
set sequence. More proactively, you might choose to enlarge or transfer visual images
from a site.

Social networking
The term social networking is used for web-based services which enable users to interact
with each other in a variety of ways, including for example email, file sharing, blogging, and
video and voice links.

The language of the internet

New technology has created a huge number of neologisms (new words and expressions),
sometimes known collectively as cyberspeak, netspeak or online language.

Copies from David Crystal, Language and the Internet

Spoken and Written English

There are significant differences between speech and writing. For instance, a lawyer
summing up in court uses language in a different way from a legal document like a will; the
language of an estate agent discussing a valuation with a client wishing to sell property
differs from that of an estate agents written selling details; the language of a live television
news interview differs from that of a tabloid newspaper report; the language of a television
cookery programme differs from that of a cake recipe in a cookery book; and a childs
explanation to her mother about why she wishes to miss gym at school will be different from
the note the mother writes to the teacher. In each case, the register is different: the mode for
some is spoken, while for others it is written; the manner for some is more formal than others,
which affects the kind of relationship created between participants; and the field varies
depending on the subject matter. Just as we can write in a variety of ways, so we vary our
speech according to our audience, purpose and context.
Many people believe that written language is more prestigious than spoken language its
form is likely to be closer to Standard English, it dominates education and is used as the
language of public administration. In linguistic terms, however, neither speech nor writing
can be seen as superior. Linguists are more interested in observing and describing all forms of
language in use than in making social and cultural judgements with no linguistic basis.
Linguists analysis of speech and writing has highlighted key differences between spoken and
written language.

Inevitably, a summary like this generalises the differences between speech and writing, but
the distinctions here are a useful starting point. It is important, however, to be aware of the

overlap between spoken and written forms. Written texts, for instance, can imitate spoken
words so that when spoken they sound spontaneous; and similarly, spoken texts can be
transcribed. An informal conversation and a formal essay can be seen as two extremes
between these, there will be varying degrees of difference. In assessing the differences
between spoken and written examples, linguists first establish the audience, purpose and
context of the discourse. Having done this, they can consider the extent to which a text or an
utterance is typical of speech or writing. 6

6 Material adapted from Sara Thorne, Mastering Advanced English Language (Palgrave Master

Spoken Language
Spoken language has two main purposes
To convey meaning when you need to explain something to someone, or give orders
or instructions, you use language as a means of clarification, so that the listener will
understand you.
To demonstrate attitudes and values language lets you offer opinions on subjects,
and get your point of view across.
The content of spoken language depends on its context. Spoken language is usually the
most efficient ways for speakers to communicate with each other. As with written language,
the way a spoken text is constructed can be affected by external features.
The audience or person being addressed
The speakers background this will affect their word choices, grammatical
constructions, etc.
The location and purpose of the text speakers use language differently depending on
where the conversation is taking place, and whats being talked about.
Spoken language can be formal or informal
Formal speech is often used in situations when you dont really know the people
youre talking to.
You might also use formal speech in a situation where you want to show respect, like
a job interview.
Its most common in prepared speeches (as opposed to spontaneous speeches) the
speaker is reading from planned written notes.
Formal spoken language is more likely to use complex and mainly complete
grammatical structures.
Informal speech is generally used among friends or in situations where theres no
need for formality or preparation.
It includes mostly colloquial language, which is casual and familiar.
It has simpler and often incomplete grammatical structures, simpler vocabulary, more
slang words and dialect features.
Speech can be individual or involve more than one person.

Individual speech is often known as a monologue. Monologues convey internal thoughts,

opinions or experiences.
The term monologue is usually used for a scripted performance, but it can also
include any individual speaker for a longer period of time than normal.
Monologues are directed at listeners who make no spoken contribution.
They can be prepared or spontaneous.
Dialogue is spoken language that involves more than one speaker.
A dialogue is a conversation involving two or more people they use language to
interact with each other.
Dialogue exchanges can be short, but in longer conversations one of the speakers may
take the major role, with the others mainly listening and only contributing
Dialogue can be prepared or spontaneous. Most conversations between characters on
TV or in plays or films are scripted by a writer, but conversation between you and
your friends are unprepared in spontaneous dialogue speakers respond to the
different cues and contexts that come up as the conversation goes on.

Spoken language functions in different ways

There are five categories of spoken language, which are used in different situations.
Interactional language
o the language of informal speech
o it has a social function
o its purpose is to develop relationships between speakers
A: So what are you studying when you get there?
B: Im going to be doing astronomy
A: No way! So am I. Ill see you in lectures.
Referential language
o Provides the listener with information
o Its used to refer to objects or to abstract concepts
o The speaker assumes knowledge from the listener
o The listener has to understand the context before they make sense of the
The parcel is being delivered here at two oclock
Expressive language
o Highlights the speakers emotions, feeling and attitudes

o The language shows the speakers judgements or feelings about another

person, event or situation
o Emotive adjectives can make the statements subjective
o Its likely to contain adverbs to make the statements forceful
This really cant be allowed to friends, its a total
Transactional language
o It is about getting information or making a deal, e.g. buying or selling.
o It has a specific purpose, so its driven by needs and wants rather than
A: Could you tell me where the soup is please?
B: Its on aisle 7, right by the croutons.
Phatic language
o Is used for social purposes rather than to convey serious meaning, e.g. when
someone comments about the weather as a means of initiating a conversation.
They dont want to have a meteorological discussion with you, but it starts a
conversation that (usually) quickly moves on to other subjects.
o Phatic communication is also called small talk.
Did you see that rain before? It was unbelievable! ... Im not too late
am I!

Features of Speech
Speech can be prepared or spontaneous.
Prepared speech

Worked out in advance

Designed for specific audience and purpose
Needs to be well written (so its usually formal)
Performed or delivered to try and make an impact
Needs to maintain the interest of listeners (who may or may not be known to the

Examples include political speeches and sermons

Spontaneous speech

Not prepared or written down beforehand

Delivered on the spot as soon as, or shortly after, the idea comes to the speaker
Usually informal (depending on the context)
Usually shared with people known to the speaker
Mainly in response to another speaker

Applying language frameworks to prepared and spontaneous speech allows you to see how
different they are:
Prepared speech the lexis is likely to be standardised and formal. Speakers have
time to think about their word choices, so the vocabulary is more sophisticated and
Spontaneous speech the lexis is likely to be non-standard. The informal context
means slang and dialect forms may be used more.
Prepared speech the structure of sentences follows standard grammatical rules and
pauses in the speech are controlled by punctuation. Speakers dont tend to use many
Spontaneous speech non-standard agreements, non-standard or irregular tenses, and
double negatives are common in conversation, e.g. I done it, We was planning to, I
never told him nothing.
Prepared speech speeches are aimed at an audience. The language is carefully
chosen to persuade the audience in some way. Prepared speeches usually address the
audience directly. Theyre often formal to create a feeling of prestige.
Spontaneous speech most spontaneous speech is only meant for the speakers
involved. It can be formal or informal depending on the context and the speakers
engaged in the conversation.

Speech also contains the following features:

Discourse structure
o A prepared speech has a beginning, middle and end.
o Themes and ideas are introduced at different points, and the whole thing is
usually written to end on a particular note, so that the audience goes away with
a lasting impression.
o Spontaneous speech also has formulaic beginning and endings.
Non-verbal communication
o Relates to body language, gestures and facial expressions. It emphasises
certain words or phrases in both prepared and spontaneous speech, but can
also be disruptive if its overdone.
Prosodic features
o Include stress, rhythm, pitch, tempo and intonation.
o Theyre useful in prepared speech, where a speaker can use the devices to
keep an audience interested over a long time.

Features of Spoken Language

Three-part exchanges can also occur, with the second speakers response generating a
further utterance from the first speaker. Teacher-pupil interaction often has this pattern:
Teacher: Who wrote Trainspotting?

Irvine Welsh

Teacher: Thats right.

The topic of the conversation may be initiated in some way. For example, in a shop a
customer might ask an assistant, Excuse me, can you tell me more about this computer? An
utterance such as this (indicating the topic of the conversation) is known as a topic marker.
Context is an important influence on how a conversation opens. Formal settings (e.g.
interviews) are obviously associated with more formal openings. Some situations have their
own traditional opening sequences. Telephone conversations, for instance, usually begin with
an exchange of Hellos. If you stop a stranger in the street to ask the time, you are quite
likely to begin the enquiry with Excuse me.
One of the most important features of conversation is that we take turns at speaking.
Generally, we manage this with great efficiency; if we didnt, conversation would be chaotic:
full of interruptions, simultaneous speech and awkward silences.
In formal situations, turn taking is often easier because it is managed more explicitly. In
committee meetings, for example, the chairperson may invite individual members to speak.
In job interviews, conversations follow a clear question-and-answer pattern.
In informal conversation, turn taking is also sometimes quite explicit. Direct questions are an
obvious invitation to speak, as are tag questions (e.g. Were going to be late, arent we?)
another explicit way of indicating that you want someone to speak is to mention their name.
In conversational analysis, the person who is speaking is said to be holding the floor.
Usually, however, the cues are more subtle. One indication than an utterance is at an end is
that the grammatical construction involved will be completed (the equivalent of a sentence
coming to an end). Another, more obvious, verbal cue is when the speaker makes a
concluding statement such as That was that or I havent spoken to her since.
When speakers approach the end of an utterance their voice begins to fall, and it appears that
listeners unconsciously sense this. Also, the last syllable spoken may be more drawn out.
Eye movements are important non-verbal cues. We usually look at another person more when
we are listening that when we are speaking, but when we near the end of an utterance we will
often look up at the other persons eyes.

Some research also suggests that turn taking may be influenced by gender and status. For
instance, it has been found that women tend to ask more questions, while men are more likely
to interrupt.
Another convention of conversation is that those who are being addressed give feedback to
the speaker to show that they are listening. Failure to give such feedback can be very
disconcerting for the speaker e.g. someone speaking on the telephone soon begins to feel
uncomfortable if there is complete silence at the other end of the line. Feedback can take
various forms:

Verbal responses such as Absolutely, I know, Really?

Oral signs (also known as back-channel noises): sighs, gasps and other expressive
noises such as mm, uh huh, etc.
Non-verbal responses such as nodding, smiling, making eye contact, etc. Such
feedback is usually positive or supportive, but it can also register disagreement,
boredom or inattention.

Ways of closing a conversation

Just as there are standard ways of opening a conversation, so there are conventional closing
sequences, which prevent a conversation ending abruptly or unexpectedly.
Often the last words spoken are a ritual exchange of farewells (e.g. Goodbye, So long), but
these are usually preceded by pre-closing signals ways of indicating that a conversation is
reaching its end. These can be verbal or non-verbal.

Topics to be covered are:

Word Classes, Phrases, Sentence Types, Cohesion, Morphology, Semantics, Difference
between Speech and Writing, Non-Literary texts, Literary texts, Dialects, Sociolects,
idiolects, SE and RP, Register, Sexism, Political Correctness, Taboo.