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Writing: Formal and Informal Language — Video Lesson

David shows you how to approach a Formal and Informal Language question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] We are looking at question 25 here. Let me start from the beginning of the paragraph. "Towards the end of the 1400s, as the Renaissance was reaching its height in Florence, Italy, members of the city's powerful Wool Guild were celebrating their recently completed city cathedral. It was a triumph that added to Florence's reputation from sophistication and beauty. Yet the guild members were eager to fancy it up even more." Okay, and our options are A, no change, fancy it up even more. B, make it look super rich. C, increase its splendor and D, give it a wow factor. So from those choices, I can tell this is a question about formal and casual language. Sometimes there's a prompt, like choose the word or phrase that best maintains the style and tone of the passage. And sometimes as with question 25 here, there's no prompt. And it's just a series of options. You're not looking to correct grammar or punctuation errors here. The key is to match the tone. And the fastest way to do that is to suss out whether or not the passage is formal or casual. Does the author use slang or informal expressions or is it closer to being professional or technical? And the fun thing about these questions is that since you're making a binary choice between formal or informal, you just have to find the odd one out. If you're looking for a casual or an informal choice the other three options will all use formal language. This isn't a precision word choice question. You're not looking for a fine grain distinction and connotations. This here is the distinction between, "Hey dude!" and "Good evening, sir." Before we get to answering this question which I promise will take us all of 10 seconds. A final tip, if you're unfamiliar with a choice it's likely to be formal. Casual language is familiar everyday language and it's much more likely to reflect the way we speak than it is to reflect the way that we write. So with that in mind, ask yourself, "What tone does this passage have?" If you want, take a second to pause the video and see if you can answer this question on your own. Okay, let's go for it. What's the tone of this passage, what's it about? It's about Michelangelo from the title. This opening paragraph is about this new cathedral in Florence, in the 15th century during the height of the Renaissance. It uses words like "triumph" and "sophistication". Later in this paragraph I see the word "adorn". These are formal terms. This is formal language. So I'm going to be looking for a formal choice. Now our choices are: No change, which is fancy it up even more and fancy it up is a slangy' casual informal expression. So I feel confident that we can cross it off. B, make it look super rich, super rich, also informal. It reflects casual spoken English. We can cross that off too. Choice C, increase its splendor. That's not informal, that's not casual. This is almost certainly our answer. D, give it a wow factor. Wow factor does not match the tone of sophistication or triumph. I could imagine somebody on a real estate TV show saying this to describe a house, but I could not imagine them saying it to describe a cathedral. This is informal casual language. I'm going to cross it off. And that means that C is our answer. So what I did for this question was identify the tone of the passage, which is something you might do unconsciously, whether it's on a practice test or on test day itself. And then all I had to do was go through the choices with a simple yes or no. Is it formal or informal? Only one choice matched the rest of the passage. And that's the choice I went with.