When we speak, we always distinguish between formal or informal context, what means that we adapt our vocabulary, grammar and discourse structure to the audience we may be addressing.
When describing things, we will also do the same; if I have to describe a photograph in an exam, I will certainly use different vocabulary than when telling a friend about the stunning view you have from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
However, there are certain things which are useful in both contexts:
Even if we are describing a landscape in an informal context, we have to give the information in a rational order:
- Introduce the topic; identify the landscape (location, reason for describing it, etc.).
- Give a general overview of the landscape; that is, a general look.
- Describe small details.
- Conclude by giving our opinion or explaining the feelings it causes to you.
We “classify” words in what we call semantic fields; groups of words related to a common topic. When describing landscapes, we may have different semantic fields depending on the type of landscape we are talking about. We cannot include here all the words you can use, but here you have a selection of some of the most common ones.
- The coast. Often at the edge of the sea there are cliffs from which we can contemplate the sea. Usually people prefer sandy beaches with sand dunes to pebble beaches (small stones). The coastline can be straight or it can have bays. It's often possible to walk along the coastline on a coastal path.
- Mountain. Mountain ranges are spectacular, especially when we see snow-capped peaks or summits. Generally the terrain is rocky and the air is often pure. Where the mountains are steep, farmers often create terraces—levelled areas linked by steps so that they can grow crops on mountains and hills.
- Inland. From the foothills of the mountains you can see the open countryside. You can find farmland, but also forests or woods. The land is generally watered by rivers or lakes and streams (narrow paths of water). Sometimes, there are areas of open, flat land called plains which are used to grow crops such as wheat (the grain used to make flour).
Apart from nouns, descriptions are full of adjectives. As in many other languages, adjectives in English must follow a certain order:
- Quantity or number.
- Quality or opinion.
- Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material).
- Purpose or qualifier.
I loved that really old tall pine tree which I could see in the middle of the field.
My sister has a beautiful big circular blue swimming pool.
Another important group of words used in descriptions are prepositions of place. Have a look at the image in order to refresh what you already know.