It is our wish to sound natural when we talk to someone. Spoken grammar is different from written grammar. We don’t speak the way we write. If we speak the way we write we will sound like a book or a dictionary. It is true many learners speak like a book when they are engaged in an informal chat with their friends.
Here is an example. A person phoned his colleague and conveyed this message: “As I have been suffering from fever since Friday evening, I request you to inform the Head of the Department that I will not be able to come to college today. Could you please inform the personnel manager too about my indisposition and tell him that I will contact him over the phone this afternoon…” The colleague replied to the caller, “Hello, please speak and don’t read…”
The person has conveyed the message in a pedantic manner. He was not conversational. The message has long sentences and very formal words. In a telephonic chat with friends, we use very informal expressions, sentences should be short and not more than eight words. Most of the words used in informal conversations don’t have more than three syllables. The above telephonic message can be simplified as below: “I’m not well. I have a fever. Please inform the HoD that I’m on leave today. Please inform the personnel manager too.” All these sentences are not uttered one by one in a real conversation. In a typical conversation there are many surprises, questions and responses.
Native speakers of English use many set expressions in their conversations. Some of the expressions may sound ungrammatical. Here is a list:
• Poor you!
• Poor thing.
• You doing OK?
• What’s up?
• Oh, what a shame!
• What a pity!
• Long time no see.
• See you around.
• Have you been keeping busy?
• I’d better be going…
• Say hello to…
We say ‘poor you’ when we pity someone. The context below will help you understand the meaning of this phrase. Here is an email from one Peter and a reply from Rex:
• Dear Rex, Just to say sorry for the delay in sending out the newsletter. I have been recovering from a sudden operation…. I haven’t been quite well for some time. Now I’m back in shape and will catch up with the work soon. Yours, Peter
• Oh Dear Peter, poor you. Get well soon and don’t worry…. Look after yourself! Best wishes, Rex
‘Poor thing’ is another informal expression. We use the expression to express sympathy to someone, usually when a person is sick or upset. Assume that a person failed in an examination. You would say: “Oh you poor thing, you’ll surely do well next time. Don’t worry…”
The expression “Oh, what a shame!” is used for expressing sympathy or disappointment in an unlucky situation as in the following examples:
• Is Sheela going to divorce her husband? Oh, what a shame!
• I couldn’t reach the examination hall in time and so I was not allowed to take the exam. What a shame!
(Dr Albert P’ Rayan is an ELT resource person and associate professor at KCG College of Technology, Chennai.)
Source: Edex – The New Indian Express 04.08.2013