Written language is relatively more complex than spoken language (Biber, 1988; Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan, 1999; Chafe, 1982; Cook, 1997; Halliday,1989).
Written language is grammatically more complex than spoken language. It has more subordinate clauses, more "that/to" complement clauses, more long sequences of prepositional phrases, more attributive adjectives and more passives than spoken language.
Written texts are shorter and have longer, more complex words and phrases. They have more nominalisations, more noun based phrases, and more lexical variation. Written texts are lexically dense compared to spoken language - they have proportionately more lexical words than grammatical words.
The following features are common in academic written texts:
Subordinate clauses/embedding, Complement clauses, Sequences of prepositional phrases, Participles, Passive verbs, Lexical density, Lexical complexity, Nominalisation, Noun-based phrases, Modification of noun-phrases, Attributive adjectives
There are several factors which help to prolong this period to perhaps three or four times that in the male.
The other way in which the economic aspects of military expenditure were presented was in the form of the public expenditure costs.
The family establishes a variety of bases for refuges which seem to be used at different times of the year.
This conforms conveniently with Maslow's (1970) claim that human motivation is related to a hieracrchy of human needs.
It follows that if the Labour Government is to secure acceptance of its economic package, it has to secure the support of MPs from either the Liberal or the Conservative party.
Britain's apparent ability to rally Commonwealth support at Chicago seemed to the Americans to be evidence of Britain's continued world power.
The possibility of increasing dollar receipts was coupled with a belief that Africa could be a strategic centre for British power.
Sequences of prepositional phrases are common in academic English.
This article analyses the constitutional aspects behind the formation of the first and second National Governments, examining in particular the role of the king in the formation of the two governments.
Formal written English uses verbs less than spoken English. -ed and -ing participles allow verbs to be used nominally or adjectively.
Similar temptations overcame philosophers concerned with establishing a secure base for individual responsibility
The Egyptians regarded time as a succession of recurring phases.
Doubts as to the proper division of property at death, as well as rights between partners living together, were resolved by having legal rules prescribing a formula.
It was only to be tolerated in a controlled and formalised context.
A frequent change found in proper names is syllable loss.
In spoken English we often use a subject such as "people", "somebody", "they", "we", or "you" even when we do not know who the agent is. In formal English, particularly writing, we often prefer to use a passive.
They're installing the new computer system next month.
The new computer system is being installed next month. (more formal)
Try these exercises: Exercise 1, Exercise 2, Exercise 3
Written English generally has a much denser pattern of words, it is more lexically dense. If we define lexical density as the number of content words in a clause, then written English has a higher lexical density than spoken English (Halliday, 1996, p. 347).
For example, the written text:
Obviously the government is frightened of union reaction to its move to impose proper behaviour on unions.
is more lexically dense than the spoken version:
Obviously the government is frightened how the unions will react if it tries to make them behave properly.
Adding affixes to existing words (the base) to form new words is common in academic English. Prefixes are added to the front of the base (like dislike), whereas suffixes are added to the end of the base (active activate). Prefixes usually do not change the class of the base word, but suffixes usually do change the class of the word.
The most common prefixes used to form new verbs in academic English are: re-, dis-, over-, un-, mis-, out-. The most common suffixes are: -ise, -en, -ate, -(i)fy. By far the most common affix in academic English is -ise.
e.g. verbs + prefix verb
|re-||again or back||restructure, revisit, reappear, rebuild, refinance|
|dis-||reverses the meaning of the verb||disappear, disallow, disarm, disconnect, discontinue|
|over-||too much||overbook, oversleep, overwork|
|un-||reverses the meaning of the verb||unbend, uncouple, unfasten|
|mis-||badly or wrongly||mislead, misinform, misidentify|
|out-||more or better than others||outperform, outbid|
|be-||make or cause||befriend, belittle|
|co-||together||co-exist, co-operate, co-own|
|de-||do the opposite of||devalue, deselect|
|fore-||earlier, before||foreclose, foresee|
|inter-||between||interact, intermix, interface|
|pre-||before||pre-expose, prejudge, pretest|
|trans-||across, over||transform, transcribe, transplant|
|under-||not enough||underfund, undersell, undervalue, underdevelop|
e.g. Suffix used to form verbs with the meaning "cause to be".
|-ise||stabilise, characterise, symbolise, visualise, specialise|
|-ate||differentiate, liquidate, pollinate, duplicate, fabricate|
|-fy||classify, exemplify, simplify, justify|
|-en||awaken, fasten, shorten, moisten|
The most common prefixes used to form new nouns in academic English are: co- and sub-. The most common suffixes are: -tion, -ity, -er, -ness, -ism, -ment, -ant, -ship, -age, -ery. By far the most common noun affix in academic English is -tion.
e.g. noun+prefix noun
|anti-||against||anticlimax, antidote, antithesis|
|bi-||two||bilingualism, biculturalism, bi-metalism|
|co-||joint||co-founder, co-owner, co-descendant|
|counter-||against||counter-argument, counter-example, counter-proposal|
|dis-||the converse of||discomfort, dislike|
|in-||the converse of||inattention, incoherence, incompatibility|
|inter-||between||interaction, inter-change, interference|
|mal-||bad||malfunction, maltreatment, malnutrition|
|mis-||wrong||misconduct, misdeed, mismanagement|
|mono-||one||monosyllable, monograph, monogamy|
|re-||again||re-organisation, re-assessment, re-examination|
|super-||more than, above||superset, superimposition, superpowers|
|sur-||over and above||surtax|
|under-||below, too little||underpayment, under-development, undergraduate|
e.g. Suffix added to a verb (V), noun (N) or adjective (A) noun
|-tion||action/instance of V-ing||alteration, demonstration|
|-ity||state or quality of being A||ability, similarity, responsibility|
|-er||person who V-s
something used for V-ing
person concerned with N
|-ness||state or quality of being A||darkness, preparedness, consciousness|
|-ism||doctrine of N||Marxism, Maoism, Thatcherism|
|-ment||action/instance of V-ing||development, punishment, unemployment|
|-ant/-ent||person who V-s||assistant, consultant, student|
|-ship||state of being N||friendship, citizenship, leadership|
|-age||collection of N
action/result of V
breakage, wastage, package
|-ery/-ry||action/instance of V-ing
place of V-ing
|bribery, robbery, misery
Many adjectives are formed from a base of a different class with a suffix (e.g. -less, -ous). Adjectives can also be formed from other adjectives, especially by the negative prefixes (un-, in- and non-).
The most common suffixes are -al, -ent, -ive, -ous, -ful, -less.
e.g. Suffix added to verbs or nouns adjective
|-al||central, political, national, optional, professional|
|-ent||different, dependent, excellent|
|-ive||attractive, effective, imaginative, repetitive|
|-ous||continuous, dangerous, famous|
|-ful||beautiful, peaceful, careful|
|-less||endless, homeless, careless, thoughtless|
|-able||drinkable, countable, avoidable,|
e.g. adjective + negative adjective
|un-||unfortunate, uncomfortable, unjust|
|im-/in-/ir-/il-||immature, impatient, improbable, inconvenient, irreplaceable, illegal|
|non-||non-fiction, non-political, non-neutral|
|dis-||disloyal, dissimilar, dishonest|
e.g. base with both prefix and suffix
Formal written English uses nouns more than verbs. For example, "judgement" rather than "judge", "development" rather than "develop", "admiration" rather than "admire".
This information enables us to formulate precise questions.
we would write:
This information enables the formulation of precise questions.
More examples are:
There appeared to be evidence of differential treatment of children.
This is reflected in our admiration for people who have made something of their lives, sometimes against great odds, and in our somewhat disappointed judgment of those who merely drift through life.
All airfields in the country would be nationalised, and the government would continue with the development of new aircraft as recommended by the Brabazon Committee.
Associated with nominalisation is the occurrence of prepositional phrases, introduced by of:
judgment of those
treatment of children
development of new aircraft
-tion is the most common suffix used in this way. For example: alteration, resignation.
However others are: -ity ability, similarity, complexity; -ness blindness, darkness, preparedness; -ment development, encouragement; -ship friendship; -age mileage; -ery robbery, bribery; -al arrival; -ance assistance, resemblance.
Formal written English uses nouns more than verbs.
One example is:
Like all other forms of life, we human beings are the product of evolution.
Like all other forms of life, we human beings are the product of how we have evolved.
The noun "evolution" is preferred to the verb "evolve" and the "wh" clause.
Another example is:
Premack used a set of plastic chips to teach a chimpanzee named Sarah the meaning of a set of symbols.
Premack used a set of plastic chips to teach a chimpanzee named Sarah what a set of symbols mean.
"The meaning of the symbols" is preferred to "what the symbols mean"
Try this exercise: Exercise 4
Written English is lexically dense - there is a higher proportion of content words per clause. This can be done by modification of noun-phrases.
premodifier + noun
adjective - the constitutional aspects
ed-participle - a balanced budget, from the confused events of 19-24 August, the emitted light
ing-participle - growing problem, one striking feature of the years 1929-31, existing structures
noun - market forces, cabinet appointments
noun + post modifier
relative clause - students who have no previous experience
to-clauses - the solution to the problem of inflation, the question to be debated
ing-clauses - a brake consisting of a drum divided into twelve compartments
ed-clauses - canoes preserved by a hard plaster, a brake consisting of a drum divided into twelve compartments, the curve shown
prepositional phrase - we need to bring to the box a special tool with a ready-compressed spring
adverb (phrase) - the road back, the people outside
adjective (phrase) - varieties common in India, the festival proper, something different
Adjectives can be used either attributively (e.g. the big house) or predicatively (e.g. the house is big). Attributive adjectives are common in academic English.
With economic specialisation and the development of external economic linkages, division of labour intensifies, a merchant class is added to the political elite, and selective migration streams add to the social and ethnic complexities of cities.
Halliday (1989, p.79) compares a sentence from a spoken text:
You can control the trains this way and if you do that you can be quite sure that they'll be able to run more safely and more quickly than they would otherwise, no matter how bad the weather gets.
with a typical written variant:
The use of this method of control unquestionably leads to safer and faster train running in the most adverse weather conditions.
The main difference is the grammar, not the vocabulary.
Other equivalents are given below (p.81):
Whenever I'd visited there before, I'd ended up feeling that it would be futile if I tried to do anything more.
Every previous visit had left me with a sense of the futility of further action on my part.
The cities in Switzerland had once been peaceful, but they changed when people became violent.
Violence changed the face of once peaceful Swiss cities.
Because the technology has improved its less risky than it used to be when you install them at the same time, and it doesn't cost so much either.
Improvements in technology have reduced the risks and high costs associated with simultaneous installation.
The people in the colony rejoiced when it was promised that things would change in this way.
Opinion in the colony greeted the promised change with enthusiasm.
Try these exercises: Exercise 1, Exercise 2.