A quandary: What is the difference between ‘register’, ‘style’

What is the difference between register and style and what has ‘audience’ to do with them?

I am in a bit of a quandary. While preparing the teachers’ DIY kit of ideas worksheets and exercises to prepare students for the IGCSE in English as a Second Language for next year’s IATEFL Conference (I hope), it struck me that I don’t REALLY know the difference between ‘register’ and ‘style’. It is a good idea to know what you are talking about when writing a textbook, so I need to know: what IS the difference between ‘register’ and ‘style’?

I searched the web and read the books I could get my hands on and it seems to me the simple difference is ‘register’ is concerned more with specific language choices i.e. whether vocabulary and grammar is ‘formal’ or ‘informal’.

‘Style’, on the other hand, not only concerns register but looks at the way the words, sentences and paragraphs are put together. A particular author may have a preferred style – e.g. Jane Austen.  ‘Style’ also concerns the correct or conventional use of language e.g. is ending sentences with prepositions using a correct/appropriate style of English for the purpose intended?

When the examination specifications mention ‘audience’, I assume that when considering an appropriate register and style one is also considering the audience – the person/people for whom the language is written.

Sorted. I hope – DO correct me if I am wrong!


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4 Responses to “A quandary: What is the difference between ‘register’, ‘style’”

  1. Tuli Says:

    I am not clear about style. What you wrote about style (i.e. Jane Austen’s or any particular author’s style) is right. I agree. But, what is Style in Sociolinguistics? There are five “language register” such as Frozen, Formal, Consultative, Casual & Intimate. Are these 5 categories included in “Style” or “Register”??
    Please help me if you can…..

    • rjwestwell Says:

      You raise an interesting point. While it has been a number of years since I studied linguistics I think the registers you describe (‘Frozen, Formal …) are just as you say – different registers. Style, I believe, would describe how an author expresses themselves within those registers, i.e. which words, phrases, collocations they use to communicate in a ‘Frozen’, ‘Formal’ … register. The sociolinguistics part in this would relate to how the author chooses his/her words to communicate and relate to his/her audience and surrounding society. For example, he/she may use certain words/’phrases of jargon from their exclusive work environment. I hope this is of some help. You will need to research further.

  2. Ibtihal J. Says:

    Thanks alot, really I get it now. it was a problem for me.

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