When you’re learning a new language, it’s common to want to show off your new skills—and you should! But sometimes, that means using as many big words and complex sentences as possible.
The problem is that when your English (spoken or written) is too formal, it can sound unnatural. On top of that, too many big words or complicated phrases can make your message hard to understand.
Instead, you should express yourself in a clear and straightforward way. If you really know what you’re talking about, you can speak plainly and still get your point across.
Below, we’ll explore how you can avoid overly complex, formal English for better communication.
How to simplify your English
1. Use contractions
You might think that avoiding contractions makes you sound more professional. In reality, if you never use contractions, you’ll end up sounding kind of robotic.
To sound more natural, make sure to include at least some contractions in your writing or speech.
If you cannot come tonight, I will not see you until I have returned from my vacation. I do not know if I will be able to wait that long!
If you can’t come tonight, I won’t see you until I’ve returned from my vacation. I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long!
See the difference? The first sentence sounds a little less natural than the second.
While you don’t need to use contractions constantly, it’s a good idea to occasionally add them in, whether you’re speaking or writing.
2. Keep it active
Many people (native speakers and learners alike) overuse passive voice. Rather than making you sound more intelligent, it can make your message too wordy and harder to understand.
There are situations where passive voice is useful (like if you don’t know who performed a particular action, e.g., “My car was stolen!”). But in general, it’s not really necessary.
Instead, try to use active voice—it’s much clearer.
So, rather than saying:
When I got home, I saw that dinner had been cooked by my husband.
You could say:
When I got home, I saw that my husband had cooked dinner.
Better, isn’t it?
3. Avoid technical jargon
Sometimes, the use of technical words is perfectly appropriate—in various work situations, for instance. But using too many complicated technical expressions in everyday communication often isn’t a good thing.
The point of communication is for others to understand your message; if you’re using words that most people don’t know, you risk confusing your listener and losing their attention. So keep technical jargon out of your everyday conversations!
4. Aim for simpler sentences
Our final point is about keeping your spoken and written sentences as straightforward and simple as you can (without losing your meaning, of course).
Have a look at this sentence:
It is possible to obtain a prescription through your healthcare provider.
Now, here’s a simpler version:
You can get a prescription from your doctor.
Can you see how the two sentences above have basically the same meaning? There’s no need to get complicated!
Keep it simple
There’s a time and place for more formal language: in professional documents or in a courtroom setting, for example.
But everyday English is different.
To be well understood, make sure to avoid use contractions, avoid passive voice, cut down on technical jargon, and simplify your sentences. You’ll be communicating clearly in no time!