This site has a lot of question on how to write properly and, naturally, many of the answers are on how to do it well in English. Although, obviously, if you can write well in English, you can write well in other languages since it's a simple matter of applying the general idea to other languages.

Every now and then, though, some questions-answers are very specific to anglophones. One of these is the idea of linguistic simplicity.

Let me clarify from the start: I'm Portuguese and, obviously, I know there are different levels of language complexity. However, throughout my academic life (I studied languages and literature and was often required to write fiction and non-fiction) complexity was seen as a three step process:

  1. You have natural sounding language, which will vary between an everyday tone and an expert tone depending on what you're writing and your target audience (meaning, there are different levels of complexity within natural sounding language depending on whether you're writing a novel about Daniel's office adventures or about the existencial musings of an organ tuner).
  2. Then you have simple language, which often requires structures and vocabulary unnaturally simplified (frowned upon by teachers).
  3. Finally, you have complex language, which often requires structures and vocabulary unnaturally complex (frowned upon by teachers).

So, unless you're writing for a niche elitist audience, you'll steer away from unnaturally complex language, and unless you're writing for children and teens, you will also steer away from the over simplistic language.

And then there's the big catch: a lot of books in the Portuguese national reading plan have structures that are not simplistic and some have vocabuary that definitely isn't a part of everyday life.

So, when I first came across the American (I'm not sure how much this applies to other English-speaking countries) idea that one must write to an average audience at an 8th grade level I was taken aback. I remember my 7th to 9th grade language teachers pointing out simplistic structures and vocabulary and requiring me to improve them (and the same for obscure vocabulary and convoluted structures, obviously), so how come some countries/languages required the language to be simplified when writing? Wasn't that unnatural?

Well, enough with the ranting contextualisation: I have since come to accept that English and Portuguese writing have different requirements and moved on. Yet, the question Do popular books use simpler language? made me wonder whether more countries/language have a similar 'rule' for novels written for the average reader.

I believe this is an important point for writers overall as I can see, say, a Portuguese beginner writer following such a rule and unnaturally simplifying their language without accounting for scope and target audience. While many of the members on this site aim at writing in English and should, therefore, keep the 'rule' in mind, many (I believe) also aim at writing in their own languages, which is not English. So, again, how seriously do other markets hold this 'simplified language' notion? Is it like the Portuguese rule of thumb (make it sound natural) or is there a prescribed level (for the average reader)?

  • 1
    In the UK I find that most books are written to a level where pretty much all readers will understand it, however the majority of people who read books are more educated so this raises that level a little
    – Aric
    Aug 10, 2017 at 8:29
  • When I was in school as a kid, we were also forced to switch out "common simple words" for bigger words. IE change the words like "many" to "plethora". I didn't really understand it myself then or now why I was made to use words too large for my age/comprehension. They said it was so we don't get repetitive repeating the same words constantly to which I can kind of understand, kids have smaller vocabulary but still a drastic jump to go from a simple word like many to plethora. So for us in the USA, for me at least, I had the same experience as you with school.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 10, 2017 at 15:38
  • @ggiaquin: 'plethora'? Using similarly complex Portuguese words would have gotten me a 'Do you think you're Camões?' (16th century poet with a standing similar to Shakespeare). It was more like alternating 'but' with 'however', 'although' and 'nevertheless' while using longer, well-structured sentences (English prefers short sentences whereas Portuguese favours longer ones). Aug 10, 2017 at 20:30
  • fortunately, I'm a brazilian, @SaraCosta. Creio que a resposta para sua pergunta depende muito do seu público-alvo. Uma escrita mais "eltiizada" como você mesma falou é para um público bem mais específico, já uma linguagem mais "simplificada" atinge um público mais amplo. A maturidade do texto, entretanto, depende da forma que seu conflito é abordado. Eu particulamente acho desnecessário uma escrita elitizada. George Orwell já disse que esse tipo de escrita rebuscada é desnecessário e que o bom é que qualquer um possa ler e entender a sua obra. Você não precisa bancar o "Camões." e__e
    – Hanilucas
    Dec 5, 2017 at 12:54

2 Answers 2


It would be hard for me to answer about popular books, but I can answer about literature I enjoy. In Hebrew and Russian (my mother tongues), as well as in English, I gravitate towards either the classics, or fantasy/sci-fi - towards literature that challenges me, and demands thought. I expect the language to match.

Does that mean Shakespearean turn of phrase? Most of the time - no. It doesn't make sense for Israeli soldiers, for instance, to use "wherefore"s. But it does mean rich vocabulary, and proper grammar. There is a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical constructions that fit different situations. Over-simplified grammar and vocabulary, on the other hand, make me feel the book doesn't respect me. In turn, I find it hard to respect such a book. For that matter, I felt the same in eighth grade.


This question relates to the writing of novels so I'll address that point. The writing of non-fiction and academic papers is a totally different discipline.

Those who do not have English as a first language are seriously disadvantaged. They seek to us 'correct' English, and there is no such thing. The ability to communicate effective in 'standard' English plateaus at quite a low academic level, perhaps age 12-15. After this, the learning is no longer linear, nor is it taught. It becomes how many versions of experienced English are you fluent in: US English, British English, Californian Millennial English, etc?

Essentially, a novel is written: "In the author's own words (part of voice)." Subsequently, even lowly me will use words and phrases that an English University professor will not understand out of context.

The author is telling you a story. Do you like the sound of his voice?

Being correct is not necessarily 'better'.

"After the accident Maria went to live with her Uncle."

"After the accident Maria went to live in the house of the brother of her mother."

  • The first sentence may be correct but the second says so much more - it hints culture setting, etc. And it has a certain charm.

There are also cultural differences. A UK reader is likely to want to be challenged by a novel whereas the US industry fears the US reader will not purchase a difficult read.

Then, there are the facts: "The reading skills of American adults are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries, according to a new international survey. What’s more, over the last two decades Americans’ reading proficiency has declined across most age groups, and has only improved significantly for 65-year-olds."


  • 2
    While I find the paragraph comparing UK and USA industries interesting, I'm afraid you don't quite answer the question. Aug 10, 2017 at 11:20
  • 3
    @Surtsey, I think you may have misinterpreted the question. This is about writing in languages other than English, not writing in English as a non-native speaker.
    – sudowoodo
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:21

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