English Corner – Writing Formal Letters

Writing a formal letter has gone out of style with the rise of e-mails and text messages. However, it is not gone yet and if you would like to stand out as a great English writer, I really recommend you learn more about the art of writing formal letters. Writing a letter, in general, is great practice especially when it comes to developing your vocabulary and sentence structure. Being able to write down your thoughts, be truthful with your words, and hold the person’s attention singularly is not easy to do nowadays but it is not a lost art.

Simply put, it is an extremely thoughtful gesture that won’t go unnoticed by the person or people whom you write letters to. It is also a nice way for you to be able to receive letters and to work on your reading comprehension skills too as an English learner. It is also overlooked how writing a letter by hand especially will increase your penmanship and make your writing more legible. Perhaps most importantly, you are using formal language in writing letters and there are various ways you can use this kind of language from the beginning of the letter to its final conclusion.

Let’s start with writing formal letters in a general way. Depending upon the gender of the person you are writing to, it will change. In terms of greetings, your options will look like the following:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones

Then, after the greeting and citing who you are writing to, you must state your purpose or you reason for writing your letter to them, also in a formal manner.

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing to you about my proposal / my business / my project, etc.
  • I am writing for the purpose of sharing my findings / research / news / updates, etc.

When you come to ending a generally addressed letter, you can choose to end it formally in a number of ways and it would be fine to do so in any of these cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours sincerely
  • Sincerely
  • Warm Regards
  • Best Wishes

Beyond just writing letters for general purposes, we can sometimes write letters that involve complaints whether it is to an airline for their baggage policy, to a restaurant for unusually poor service, or to a company to request money back for a product that didn’t work, sometimes, a written letter with the right language can do the trick to help you get your money back and also help maintain your patience with that same company.

If you would like to formally introduce a complaint that is singular in nature, there are a number of ways to do so and politely since you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings unnecessarily.

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

If the letter you are writing happens to have more than one complaint, do not worry because there are ways in English for you to make it known to the reader that there is more than one thing that you disproved of or would like to see fixed in the future.

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only…but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • ________ was also unacceptable and unfortunate

The heart of this kind of complaint letter involves demanding some kind of action on the part of the reader and you can make this also known in a polite way. If you would like to see change happen, you have to be kind about it even if you are steaming mad on the inside. A sign of a mature person is when they can make their complaints known in a polite way without using insults or derogatory language to demean the person reading the letter.

After you have made your complaint(s) known, you can wrap up the letter by demanding action and then ending it with the form of resolution you hope comes about after they read it.

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

Beyond just your complaints, formal letters are also great ways to make suggestions to people you know on how they could improve or become better in some way, shape, or form. You can describe possibilities, options, and opportunities that they did not know existed.

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing make arrangements

When it comes to making these suggestions, the beginning of your sentences should look formally like these options:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all, I suggest
  • I would like to suggest
  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Giving suggestions in a letter also means not forcing anybody to act or do anything they would not want to do so part of your language used should offer a choice that they must decide upon themselves. Here is how that might look in your letter’s formal language:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ….?
  • Either……or
  • You might choose either ……. Or

Requesting information is another big reason why people choose to write in-depth letters so they can be made aware of a person, place, or situation that they do not know much about but would like to find out more. In terms of the English language, there are numerous ways to express your reason for writing a formal letter in this case:

  • I am writing to receive further information about….
  • I am writing to inquire about…
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about…
  • I am writing to receive further details about…

Further on in the letter, you will ask for the details or pieces of information and there are likely to be more than one of them. In these cases, you have to phrase your sentences to the point but in a polite manner so as to get that information over to you without causing any hard feelings or distrust.

  • The first thing I would like to know is…
  • First of all, I would like to know…
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ….?
  • Could you also tell me….?
  • Could you also inform me ….?
  • Would you also mind informing me ….?
  • Would you also mind telling me ….?
  • Do you know ….?
  • I would also like to know if…
  • I would also like to know whether…
  • I hope you might also let me know about…

In this particular kind of letter, you really do have to thank the person for their work in helping you get the information you requested. It probably takes a lot of work on their part so it would be nice of you to show thanks in terms of your language used towards the end of this particular letter.

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance…

Often times, you will be writing these letters to give out information that will be necessary for business, work, or for school. There are a few ways to address the reasons you are writing to give out this information such as:

  • I am writing to inform you about…
  • I am writing to provide you with information about…
  • I am writing to let you know that…

Next, you will want to lay out your main point and supporting points regarding the information you are giving out that would help the reader out and inform them of what they need to know.

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is..
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is..
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is..
  • I would like to begin by informing you of…
  • I would also like to let you know that…
  • I would also like to inform you that…
  • You might also find the following information useful:
  • It might also be useful for you to know that…
  • Another piece of information that might be useful is…

When you end a formal kind of informative letter, you should conclude with asking if they need anything else or if there are any other questions that they may have regarding the information given.

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to let me know.
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask…
  • I will willingly provide further information on request…
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information…
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance…
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information…

Lastly, you will want to write a formal letter from time to time regarding requesting or asking for permission to do something, go somewhere, or start a new project. To start off your reason for writing a permission kind of letter, it should look something like this:

  • I am writing to ask permission for…
  • I am writing to ask permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission for…
  • I am writing to ask if I might…

Your permission or request letter might come with more than one enclosed in the letter so make sure you let the reader know that there is only one request or more than one request and what are these requests specifically.

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would…
  • First of all, I wonder whether you would mind…
  • The first request I would like you to consider is…
  • I would be grateful if you would also consider doing…
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to…
  • I would also like to request permission for…
  • I would also like to request permission to…

Make sure you thank the reader for their permission or for granting your request(s) ahead of time and upon reading the letter. Hopefully, they will grant you permission after you give them formal reasons and good explanations as to why your requests are necessary. Here are the examples:

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing formal letters is clearly an underrated skill as it has gone out of practice, but people will really appreciate it if you are able to do it for them especially for a family member or a friend. You can practice your penmanship, handwriting, and your overall writing knowledge. It is clear that with enough practice, your vocabulary and your grammar will also improve, and it will benefit you in the long run.

Whether it is a letter to a work colleague about a project, a letter to your girlfriend or your boyfriend about a wedding plan, or a letter to a friend about your next semester classes, these are all formal letter examples that you can use these sentence examples to get started.

Once you have formal letters down, you can move on to more informal topics, which are much easier and much faster to master. However, becoming an expert in writing formal letters about formal topics will put you ahead in your English language learning and give you great writing practice that will stay with you as a student into the future. It will also make you a more compassionate and understanding person to communicate by letter instead of by a short e-mail, or an even shorter text message.

English Corner – Sentence Order and Structure

In previous ‘English Corner’ posts, I have covered ‘Personal Pronouns’ and ‘Singular and Plural Nouns’. I now would like to focus wholeheartedly on how the average English language learner can create a basic yet complete sentence that follows the SVO rule.

What is the SVO rule you may be asking? Good question. SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object, which is the chronological order for which English sentences are made of. Other languages besides English may be forming sentences as Subject – Object – Verb, Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb but just for this particular language that we are learning which is English, we are going to stick with Subject – Verb – Object and the SVO rule.

If you have doubts about remembering that SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object as an acronym, you can instead remember it as Some Valuable Onions (SVO) or So Very Open (SVO). These are just two examples of acronyms that you can associate with the SVO rule. It is important to remember that an English sentence will not make any sense unless it follows this particular rule and of placing these characteristics in the right chronological order.

Let’s begin with the Subject:

Subjects are often personal pronouns or proper nouns, which begin the English sentence. If you are using a personal pronoun, you would begin your sentence with I, You, We, They, He, and She if you are referring to a person. You would use a proper noun to refer to an object or a thing as ‘It.’ In addition, you can focus on using proper nouns as well that refer to specific people, places, and things. For example, you could begin a sentence with ‘The President, Albert Einstein, The Miami Dolphins, Hollywood, etc.) These proper nouns are usually formal titles referring to a person’s rank, their full name, or the title of the object or thing being referenced to.

Let’s continue with the Verb:

There are thousands of verbs that we can put in the heart of our sentences but let’s focus here on just the basic ones that are the come up the most frequently. When it comes to verbs, they usually will come right after the ‘subject’ in terms of the order to be in the middle. You also may need to add another verb or two to the sentence to make it complete with an additional subject word at the beginning if you are referencing another person in the ‘personal pronoun’ form.

When it comes to ‘verbs’, you will have the main verb of the sentence and then the ‘auxiliary verbs’ before or after the main verb which are meant to support the actual meaning of the sentence. Auxiliary verbs are not integral to basic sentence structure, but it is something to be aware of as most English sentences will have more than one verb. If you mess up the order of verbs in the sentence, do not be too concerned because that is an easy mistake to make. The key thing to keep in mind is that you are putting the verb after the subject and before the object or object(s) of the sentence.

Let’s finish with the Object:

The object of a sentence brings meaning or purpose to it so without the ending or the ‘object’ being made clear, the sentence will not function on its own within a larger paragraph or an essay. Objects can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of their relation to the subject. Types of objects include animals, people, places, things, etc. that are referenced to in some way at the end of the sentence.

A preposition can also go in front of the ‘object’ such as ‘for, to, on, with, by’ and can either be prepositions of place or prepositions of time.

Objects can be abstract, real, theoretical, or imaginary as long as they relate to both the previous subject(s) or verb(s) of the sentence. You can refer to an object directly in the sentence or indirectly depending upon the context.

It is important that the sentence when you finish writing it makes sense grammatically and in terms of using the correct vocabulary. Lastly, while you need a complete sentence, it does not have to be a run-on sentence meaning that you can break up a sentence in two or more sentences if you are saying too much.

Let’s look at a few examples going from the shortest sentence to the longest sentence:

Example #1: I like football.

Example #2: I want to play video games.

Example #3: She was not a good ballet dancer, but she was an excellent writer.

Example #4: You are not supposed to be at the music festival as you have a big test to study for tomorrow.

Example #5: Abraham Lincoln is known as the 16th President of the United States but he was also an avid reader, a lawyer, a U.S. Senator, and an outdoorsman.

Each of these examples sum up the varying levels of complexity that make up sentences in the English language. As you can see, it is likely that the longer a sentence is, the more complex it will be with additional subjects, verbs, and/or objects. The key to avoid run-on sentences is to look over your written work to make sure that the sentence is following the SVO rule but has the right vocabulary to go along with it.

The first example starts us off with one subject, one verb, and one object. The second example adds an auxiliary verb to the sentence and adds a preposition as well. The third sentence enters in a comma as well as an explanation regarding how ‘she’ was ‘not’ a ballet dancer, ‘but’ was an excellent writer. You have two objects, a preposition, and the same verb being used twice in the simple past tense. To add on to the complexity, the fourth sentence highlights the two objects as well as three total verbs and has a time frame by using ‘tomorrow’ as its indirect object at the end of this example. Lastly, the fifth and most complete English sentence discusses a real-life subject in President Abraham Lincoln and how he could have a number of other ‘objects’ associated with him. This sentence also has different verbs as well as a descriptive adjective like ‘avid’ to add some flair to this last example.

As you can see from my explanations and my examples, English language sentences are as diverse and as varied as the language itself. Whether it is three words or thirty words, one complete and compelling sentence can make all the difference in making you both a better English writer and a better English learner overall. Good luck and remember to use this post as a way to begin your quest to create excellent English sentences!

English Corner – Five English Mistakes That Can Be Easily Fixed

New students of the English language are destined to make mistakes when practicing their skills and abilities in building up their proficiency. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes but I’d like to share the five most common mistakes that are easily fixable given my experience in teaching English as a Second Language. Instead of letting these mistakes continue unabated, it’s important for teachers such as myself to correct our students right away so as to not let these small mistakes become bad habits. When you have a small error, usually grammatical in nature, it’s necessary for the teacher to use his or her expertise to correct the student right away and show them the difference between the right approach and the wrong approach to the mistake.

You should always be correcting the student politely and then showing them where exactly did they go wrong, and how they can avoid the same mistake again. Hopefully, English as a foreign language student will be able to avoid some of these five mistakes but I would say that it is quite likely that they will commit one or two of these five errors. Luckily, these mistakes are easy to fix and once you do, the student can move on to more intermediate and advanced challenges.

            1.) Neglecting both indefinite and definite articles: Some non-native speakers of English have a bad habit of leaving out the ‘a’, ‘the’, or ‘an’ at the beginning of their sentences. They may state their sentence as being “Economy performed very well.” While it’s easy to understand the sentiment of the sentence and the meaning will come across to the native speaker, it won’t be grammatically correct. It’s always necessary to put a definite article like ‘the’ before the word ‘economy’ in order for it to sound like a sentence that a native speaker would put together. “The economy performed very well,” should be the sentence that the foreign learner of English must use to be grammatically correct and fully understood.

This is an easy mistake to correct but if left unchecked, the non-native speaker will forget many times to add ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’ at the beginning of their spoken or written sentences. For ESL teachers, this is a key mistake that students will make especially from language backgrounds where ‘definite and indefinite articles’ are not used. Another example of an indefinite article not being used is a sentence like “I have cat.” While we know that person has a cat, there is the key ‘a’ word missing to make it grammatically correct. The student should then be correct for the sentence to be “I have a cat.” While these are not major mistakes, by showing your students the correct structure, you will be doing them a big favor and helping them to become better English learners.

            2.) Mixing up singular and plural noun usage: Another slight mistake that ESL students make as beginners is to mix up singular and plural nouns. Knowing when and when not to use the ‘s’ at the end of nouns is key to having a grammatically correct sentence. It should be made clear that the letter ‘s’ should only be added to the end of a noun when there are more than one item, place, or thing being referenced. The key difference from one example would be ‘You eat one cookie’ and then ‘You eat two cookies’, with ‘s’ only being added to the noun ‘cookie’ when there is more than one being referenced.

You can also use ‘many, a few, a lot of’ before the noun ‘cookies.’ Countable and uncountable nouns go hand in hand with singular and plural nouns as grammatical concepts. ‘Countable’ nouns are usually plural meaning referencing more than one in number while ‘Uncountable’ nouns are usually singular in nature and can’t reference multiple persons, places, and things. Being able to use singular and plural nouns in written and/or spoken sentences is key because it will come up very often. If you make a small mistake with this concept of mixing up their usage, it should be corrected as soon as possible in order to not become another bad habit.

            3.) Forgetting to use prepositions and conjunctions: Before you can speak and write with some authority, you will need to study, use, and memorize the correct prepositions and conjunctions. Oftentimes, ESL students can forget the need for prepositions, conjunctions in a regular sentence but that will mean your sentence won’t be grammatically correct. A sentence like this one as an example would not work without prepositions or conjunctions. “He left me didn’t return I was not afraid I knew he would be back.” There are four prepositions and conjunctions missing from that example sentence and it can still work as a sentence, but it is fundamentally incomplete and would raise some eyebrows from native English speakers.

These are small errors but would hurt your ability to be understood or seen as an intermediate or advanced English learner. In order to change this example for the better, we need to make the sentence have both prepositions and conjunctions. “He left me and didn’t return but I was not afraid because I knew he would be back.” These two grammatical functions add a lot of substance to your sentence and makes it flow that much better. If you leave these conjunctions and prepositions out of your sentences, it will hurt your proficiency and you won’t be able to correct these particular mistakes.

            4.) Changing the order of the sentence from (Subject – Verb – Object): Spoken and written sentences in English have a strict order in terms of formation like any other language. While other languages could be ‘subject – object – verb’ or ‘verb – subject – object’ in official syntax, English, as a language, follows the strict format of ‘subject – verb – object’ at all times especially if you’re looking to form a complete sentence. You can form sentences in English in another order and you may be understood by a native speaker, but it won’t be grammatically correct, and you will be creating yet another bad habit that can be easily corrected. Every language has a basic structure and it needs to be observed at all times. You can’t cut around the edges in terms of the sentence structure or it will stand out as a huge error.

Basic sentence order should be memorized when you are first studying a foreign language and that includes English. A wrong sentence in terms of basic order would look like this as an example: “Store goes to the he.” You have the ‘object’ at the beginning which is wrong, the verb in the middle which is correct, yet the subject is at the end of this example sentence when it should be at the beginning. The sentence order is completely wrong here, but it is easily fixable in the following manner: “He goes to the store.” SVO or ‘Subject – Verb – Order’ is a clear and concise grammar rule that is fundamental in order to master the basic sentence structure instrumental in creating good sentences. A basic mistake like changing the order of a sentence form unnecessarily can be fixed quite easily. subject (he), verb (goes to), and object (the store). You just have to switch the order around a bit if it is incorrect and then you’ll be ready to move on to the next sentence while keeping the right order.

            5.) Capitalizing the wrong words in a sentence: Let’s remember that correct capitalization can be quite easy to do but it remains as a difficulty for many English as a second language students to master due to how, when, and where to capitalize words. It’s not a huge mistake so students may commit the error thinking that it’s not a big deal, yet correct capitalization can set you apart in terms of your writing proficiency from other learners. To neglect the basic rules of capitalization sets you up for bigger and more costly grammar mistakes. If you are able to take care of the basics and capitalize words throughout the sentence, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great English learner. An example of poor capitalization in a sentence would be as follows: “i Went to the grand canyon and it was Fun.” There are a few errors here that should stand out to you and are easily fixable, but a few students may choose to not revise the errors and leave the sentence wrongly capitalized. The key fixes are easy to implement for this sentence and would like the following revised sentence: “I went to the Grand Canyon, and it was fun.”

The changes I made include ‘I’ as capitalized, ‘went’ as not being capitalized, ‘Grand Canyon’ as being capitalized, and ‘fun’ as not being capitalized. In keeping with the basic rules of capitalization, proper nouns (Grand Canyon) should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any sentence, ‘I’ in this case, and to recall that ‘went’ as a verb should not be capitalized along with an adjective such as ‘fun’ when it comes at the end of the sentence. Conjunctions, or a preposition such as ‘and’ should also never be capitalized in a regular sentence.

Taking the time to take care of capitalization errors will put you ahead and establish your English language proficiency as improving by fixing your mistakes. If you have the time to write, speak, and use the English language, you should also use that time to revise, fix, and correct your errors to become a better student and a better learner.

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If you are interested in taking a private English lesson, check out my teachers page here where you can learn with me in a one-on-one hour session: Learn English with Ben

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