Neutral Register

In the wonderful world of linguistic registers (the variety of ways people choose to use language in different situations), there is one example called the 'neutral register'. This is the register we will be exploring in this article, and by the end, you should have a strong understanding of what defines neutral language. 

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Table of contents

    There are several factors to look at where the neutral register is concerned, but what exactly is the neutral register? Let's take a look:

    Neutral Definition

    The word 'neutral' is very likely one you've come across many times in your life, and you've probably used it yourself many times too.

    Neutral means having no defined characteristics or traits, and is often taken to mean not positive or negative.

    Neutral Register A hand ticking a box on a paper next to the neutral face StudySmarterIf something is neutral, it is neither negative nor positive.

    'Neutral' is an adjective as it is a word that describes a noun. In this article, the term 'neutral' will be describing language.

    The two sentences above are an example of neutral language. Neutral language is often used in academic writing and teaching resources as well as reports, presentations, and technical documents. We'll cover other examples later on in this article.

    In the context of language register, neutral is much more complex than the simple definition above, but we'll look into this more shortly.

    Neutral Synonyms

    As 'neutral' is such a widely-used word that can be applied to so many topics and situations, it's not surprising to see that there are quite a few neutral synonyms. Here are a few:

    • impartial
    • unbiased
    • objective

    and

    • unexceptional
    • bland
    • commonplace

    We've separated these two lists, as the word 'neutral' can have different applications. The first list refers to conflicts or debates where neutral would mean not taking a side, and the second list refers to something having no marked characteristics.

    In the context of the neutral register, we're concerned with both applications of the word. Neutral language is inherently objective and unemotional (as suggested by the first list of synonyms) and it can also be quite plain and simple (as the second list of synonyms hints at).

    Neutral language style

    The neutral register will not be appropriate in all situations, so we'll now look at some of the characteristics of neutral language so we get a better idea of what it actually is and where it fits in social interactions. The neutral language style is:

    • non-emotional

    • free from slang or colloquialisms

    • comprised of relatively simple sentence structures

    • to the point/ sticks to the facts

    • somewhere between casual and formal in tone – professional yet accessible

    • not positive or negative but purely factual and objective

    Linking back to our definition and synonyms from earlier, the neutral register is not used to convey opinions or feelings – it is unbiased and impartial, and it does not include any flowery or overly descriptive language (so in some senses, neutral language is fairly bland too).

    Neutral Register An NFL referee with his hands up StudySmarterSports referees are supposed to stay neutral and impartial between the two teams.

    Based on this information, when do we then use the neutral register? We can use neutral language in both written and spoken discourse, so we'll look at each of these modes (ways in which language is used or experienced) in turn.

    Neutral language in spoken discourse

    If we keep the qualities of the neutral register listed above in mind, these are some of the situations in which people can use neutral language in verbal interactions:

    Giving Directions

    When you ask someone for directions, you'd expect them to give you information that was concise, meaningful, and factual. The neutral register is ideal for this, as the speaker would be able to convey the necessary directions without needing to use evocative or descriptive language. They could do it in short, simple sentences that get right to the point. Giving someone directions is also an act that is inherently free from positive or negative connotations; by relaying only the required information, the speaker avoids becoming personally biased.

    Giving Instructions

    In a similar way to giving directions, when we instruct someone on how to complete a simple task, we tend to try and keep the information purely relevant to the task at hand. The speaker should aim to keep their sentences simple and fairly short, whilst using accessible language so that the listener is able to understand what is being said. Giving someone instructions is also (usually) a non-emotional interaction, so there should be little reason for the speaker to inject their personal feelings or opinions into the exchange.

    Giving a Presentation

    This will obviously depend on what the presentation is about – if you're doing a presentation on a topic where different interpretations or debates are possible, then the neutral register might not be very effective. However, if you're giving a presentation on a scientific or business-related topic, the neutral register can help you to keep your information relevant, direct, and concise whilst helping you to phrase it in a way that's easy for the listeners to understand. Presentations that are fact-based and use professional language will most likely use the neutral register.

    Neutral Language in Writing

    Due to the nature of the neutral register as outlined in the Neutral Language Style section, it is potentially used more frequently in writing than it is in verbal communication. This could be because writing is not as instantaneous (occurring instantly) as speech, and it is, therefore, easier to remain objective and...well... neutral in text form than in spoken language. Here are some examples:

    Professional Emails

    If you've ever had a job or had to email one of your teachers, you're probably familiar with writing professional emails. When constructing an email to a colleague, boss, or teacher, it's important to remain fairly formal and professional without sounding self-important and stuffy. Equally, coming across as too casual is also not appropriate in this example, so the neutral register is the perfect compromise. Professional emails should also avoid 'beating about the bush' and stick to the point, another characteristic of neutral language.

    Written Reports

    Whether it's a news report, business report, or progress report, written reports should use the neutral register. The purpose of a report is to convey factual information without embellishment (making something fancier or more complicated than it needs to be), and the neutral register is perfect for this. Reports should also be professional yet accessible so that the audience can grasp the point they're trying to make.

    Technical Writing

    Technical writing can be applied to many different subjects, but usually consists of important, technical information that needs to be conveyed clearly and directly. Some common forms of technical writing include appliance manuals, handbooks about different machines or subjects, and troubleshooting information. All of these kinds of writing need to be free from emotion and slang, and made up of simple, specific sentences – just as the neutral register dictates.

    Neutral Language Examples

    As you can see, the neutral register can be used in both verbal and written forms. Here are some examples of each of the scenarios listed above:

    Spoken

    Let's start by looking at some spoken interactions:

    Giving Directions

    'As you step out of the door, walk to the end of the drive and turn left. Keep walking straight until you come to the red post box on the corner. Facing the post box, turn left again so that you're walking on King's Street. Follow the street until it joins the high street, and the bank will be just in front of you.'

    Neutral Register Image of shoes of a person standing on a road with arrow signs to left right and ahead StudySmarterGiving directions is an example of when the neutral register is appropriate.

    Giving Instructions

    'Plug the steamer in and make sure the outlet is switched on. Open the base of the steamer and pour in some freshly boiled water, being careful not to go over the "maximum" line. Place the largest steamer basket on top of the base and then put in the carrots as these take the longest to cook.'

    Giving a Presentation

    'In the study of English language, there are six different registers. These are: neutral, consultative, formal, casual, frozen, and intimate. Each of these registers serves a different purpose in communication, and speakers will use different registers depending on the situation they're in.'

    All of these examples are about non-emotional subjects, and they use simple language and sentence structures. There is no personal bias or opinion in any of them, and they keep to the facts. There are also no colloquialisms, and the language used in each example is relatively formal but still very accessible.

    Written

    We'll now look at some examples of the neutral register in written communication:

    Professional Emails

    Dear Mr Matthews,

    Please find my assignment on American Crime Writing attached for your consideration. I am submitting it a few days early, as I would appreciate your insight into the specific texts I have chosen to comment on. Would it be possible to organise a meeting if you have the time between now and the final submission?

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards,

    Joe Bloggs

    Written Reports

    The NHS has released a new, extended list of Covid-19 symptoms in adults which now inlcudes:

    • shortness of breath
    • exhaustion/ tiredness
    • aching body
    • sore throat
    • congested/ runny nose
    • loss of appetite
    • diarrhoea
    • feeling or being sick

    Those experiencing the above symptoms are advised to stay home and avoid social contact if they do not feel well enough to attend work or normal activities.

    Technical Writing

    General Guidance and Warnings

    • Use a separate test for each person, and only use each item in the test kit once.
    • Report each person's result individually.
    • If you have problems with your hands or vision, you may need someone to assist you with the swabbing process

    The Importance of Gender-Neutral Language

    When you hear the words 'neutral' and 'language' together, the other topic that might pop up is gender-neutral language. Gender-neutral language refers to any language that does not have gendered connotations. Some languages, such as French, use gendered identifiers for nouns (e.g. 'Le' is masculine and 'La' is feminine) which sets these nouns up as being either masculine or feminine, even if they have no gendered qualities. Old English used to have similar forms, but these have since died out. English has become largely a gender-neutral language as a result. We still have words like 'waitress' and 'stewardess' which are gendered, but many would argue these are dying out.

    Why is gender-neutral language important?

    Gender-neutral language serves to remove the assumption of biological sex or social gender from the subject of an exchange, which can have an equalising effect. For example, saying things like 'firefighter' or 'police officer' instead of 'fireman' and 'policeman' removes the assumption that these sorts of careers are reserved for men only. Female-gendered words and phrases sometimes have negative or inferior connotations when compared with the male standards as well, such as saying things like 'lady boss' or 'doctress'. While these might not be that commonly used anymore, they do seem to imply that women are inferior in roles such as these or are simply not the standard.

    You might also be aware of the term 'gender-neutral pronouns', and indeed, these pronouns such as 'they' and 'them' can be used to describe people of any gender and, therefore, are examples of gender-neutral language. Gender is a vital factor in our sense of identity and so referring to people by their preferred pronouns (whether they be gendered or gender-neutral) is important to show their identity has been acknowledged and respected.

    Neutral - Key Takeaways

    • The neutral register is fact-based, non-emotional, direct and simple, avoids descriptive or flowery language, and is not positive or negative. It remains unbiased and objective, and is usually at a moderate level of formality whilst remaining accessible.
    • Neutral language can be used in written and spoken exchanges and is most commonly used when dealing with non-emotional subjects and conveying facts.
    • Presentations, emails, and technical texts are some examples of written language using the neutral register.
    • Giving directions, instructions, and presentations are some examples of spoken language using the neutral register.
    • Gender-neutral language is very important as it removed gendered connotations from various subjects.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Neutral Register

    What is neutral language in writing?

    Neutral language, or the neutral register, refers to a variety of language that is professional yet overly formal, and is fact-based. Neutral language uses short and simple sentence structures and is free from colloquialisms. It is non-emotional and remains objective and unbiased. Common examples of neutral language in writing include professional emails, technical writing, and written reports. 

    What is neutral gender in English?

    Gender-neutral language removes any assumption of biological sex or social gender concerning the subject of a written or verbal exchange. In other words, using gender-neutral language when discussing a person or subject removes any gendered expectations. 

    What is a neutral language example?

    An example of neutral language would be a report stating that "67 countries and 27 non-sovereign territories recognise English as an official language or language with institutional significance."

    Why does English have no gender?

    English does not have gendered identifiers for words like some other languages do (for example, in French "le" is masculine and "la" is feminine). Old English used to have some similar structures but these have since died out in modern English, removing grammatical gender from the language.

    When to use the neutral language register?

    The neutral language register is most appropriate in contexts that are non-emotional and fact-driven, and when communication should be free from personal bias. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    ​​​​​Choose one of the following options. Neutral language is: 

    True or false, the neutral register is good for conveying facts.

    What kind of register does technical writing (e.g. manuals) use?

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