Saturday, October 31, 2009


You have heard that Americans are very informal, and this is true. And you have learned some American idioms and slang, which you are proud to use. That's great, in some situations--with friends, online, etc.

But one thing you may not realize is that even American English has its levels of usage. And when you are writing an essay, your language should be more formal than when you are writing an email or, definitely, when you are texting.

I am writing this because recently I have had the opportunity to read a number of papers written by international students. In several of these, the word "stuff" was used. Let me be clear: It sticks out like a sore thumb. Think of a more specific word than "stuff" for the items you are referring to. "Stuff" is definitely not appropriate in formal English. It's a red flag, signalling a writer who doesn't know the rules.

Even "things," although not a sophisticated word, is better than "stuff." "Stuff" is a very commonly used word, but it does nothing to enhance your reputation as an accomplished writer of English.