How to Text in English.

From the days of the Motorola flip phones of the early 2000s to the small super computers we all keep tucked away in our pockets today, cell phone technology has come a long way. Along with it, the way English speakers text each other has also changed.

In earlier times, it wasn’t uncommon to see many more acronyms and word replacements written in text messages and on the internet than we see today. Texting in the early 2000s was a chore. You had to type words one letter at a time with tiny little buttons. Of course, people decided to shorten this nightmare any way they could.

Typing on one of these was a chore!

Nowadays, with auto-correct and easier typing, you see a lot less “R”s and a lot more “are”s. English texting has come a long way. While you may still see some acronyms, you can text by writing grammatically complete and accurate sentences. Apps like Google’s Gboard simplify this.

The Tools

If you want to send a text message, obviously you are going to need some kind of electronic device. This can be a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone.

For our example, let’s talk about smartphones. Modern smartphones are very different from the Motorola or Blackberry cell phones of the past. The all touch interface has evolved the way English speakers communicate with each other through text.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Auto-correct will now automatically replace words it thinks you have misspelled. This is handy for everyone as you can rapidly type without worrying too much about accurate spelling. The auto-correct feature will assist you by automatically replacing words you misspell.

Gboard

Along with the improvement in technology, the keyboards we use to type text messages on cellphones has changed too. Instead of a physical keyboard with buttons, all modern smartphones must use a digital keyboard. This leads to easier typing with applications such as Google’s Gboard.

Gboard is a free keyboard application for android and iOS devices produced by Google. It greatly simplifies the typing of English words on smartphones by allowing you to type by dragging your finger across the screen. You don’t have to select each letter individually by pressing each of them one after another.

Watch Gboard in action below:

Check out Gboard on the Google Playstore!

Check out Gboard on Apple’s App Store!

Tone

As an informal form of communication, texting does not follow the same rules as writing an essay or a business email. The way you write impacts the way the reader perceives what you say. This goes beyond merely word choice. Of course, the words you choose are important, but how you write a text is just as important.

Texting is a casual social interaction. When you are talking to your friends and family in person, over the phone, or on the internet, you probably usually speak in a neutral tone. You aren’t overly excited, angry, sad, or annoyed. The same would be true when you’re texting.

So how can we convey this tone of voice through text alone?

One way we can do this is by writing our sentences with no capitalization or punctuation. This gives the message a laid-back feeling and a neutral tone. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

let’s meet at the park this saturday

If you send this type of sentence, your recipient will interpret it in a neutral tone.

Although, many modern phones will capitalize the first word due to auto-correct. So if this happens, do not worry too much about changing all the letters to lowercase. You can choose to do this however if you want to ensure you convey a pleasant, neutral tone.

Annoyance, Anger, Aggression

There are quite a few ways to show your anger through text. Of course, you can use an emoji to show this, but the way you write can do this as well.

Caps Lock

One of the oldest and most used ways of showing anger through text is to capitalize everything. This gives the message the impression that you are shouting.

I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU JUST DID THAT!

Anyone who receives a message like the one above will interpret it as the sender yelling. You can add an exclamation point to the end of the sentence to add extra emphasis.

Using periods

Another common way of showing annoyance or anger is to use periods. You may find it surprising, but this tiny dot can be used in this way. Compare the two following messages:

ok

ok.

Many people who read the second message will think you are annoyed with them. The period adds a sense of abrupt curtness to the message that the first one does not.

Another way to show annoyance or seriousness is to use proper spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. This increases the formality of the message and gives the reader the impression that you are putting some distance between you and them.

That’s cool, let me know when you have time.

Remember our discussion above, the tone of the message is conveyed through how you write it. We are mostly concerned with using using proper punctuation and sentence structure when we are writing formally. If we write this way casually, our reader might assume we are annoyed with them or being overly serious.

Sadness

Showing sadness through text is a little more difficult.

A common way to do this is by using an ellipsis (…) to end your sentence.

but you said you had time today…

However, this may not always be interpreted as sadness. It can also come off as annoyed or frustrated. Using emojis in this situation can really clarify the intentions of your message. Nobody can mistake a small sad or crying face.

Acronyms and Shorthand

As typing using cell phones has become increasingly easier, people’s usage of shorthand phrases and acronyms has decreased. They haven’t been eliminated, however. You will still see these types of words fairly often in English texting. Below you’ll find a list of some common phrases along with their meanings:

Texting WordMeaning
lollaugh out loud
lmaolaughing my ass off
tbfto be fair
smhshaking my head
omgoh my god
sthsomething
atmat the moment
tbhto be honest
lillittle
srsserious
nbdno big deal
afaikas far as I know
iircif i recall correctly
asapas soon as possible
nvmnevermind

This isn’t a complete list. An entire book could be written about English texting slang. However, these are some common phrases you’ll see being used around the internet and in text messages.

If you want to check what a certain piece of slang means, you won’t find this stuff in a traditional dictionary. However, there are places on the internet that catalogue slang terms in English. A very popular website of this nature is Urban Dictionary.

You can find any popular slang term imaginable on there. All you have to do is search for it. If a term is well known and popular, it will have a lot of feedback from the community about the proper way to use it.

Anyone can write a definition for any phrase, but you will find people have voted on the most appropriate usage for each phrase.

Check out Urban Dictionary here!

Conclusion

Text messaging is a very informal form of English communication. That means there are no real rules for how it is done. Everyone has their own personal way of sending text messages and everyone will interpret the messages they receive in different ways.

However, we covered some common situations you might come across while texting in English that can help you when reading messages you receive and writing your own messages.

The best way to improve your skills with English slang and informal English communication is by practicing. You can find many different communities of English speakers on the internet where this form of communication is common. Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram. These are examples of social media platforms where you can find English speakers engaging with each other using texting slang.

Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two about sending text messages in English. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me by email.

You can find information about my 1 on 1 English conversation services by clicking here.

Happy studying!

Kyle Sutherland
Kyle is an IELTS Instructor living in Tokyo, Japan. He has worked with IELTS candidates to reach their goals for over 5 years. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English Language Linguistics and holds numerous TESOL certifications. He spends his spare time with friends or learning languages such as: Japanese, German, and Latin.
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