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Formal and informal language.

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Let’s briefly look at our top 5 crucial differences in formal and informal English.

The use

Let’s differentiate the use.

We all probably know that mostly we use formal English in writing and informal English in speech.  However, some types of formal speech, such as lectures, debates, etc., require formal English, whereas it is more common to use informal English in some types of informal writing, such as texting, social media, greetings, etc.

Here is the first conclusion – whether to use formal or informal English will depend on the register, i.e. when, where and whom you are communicating with. Just like a dress code.

formal and informal communication


Use of contractions

Now, let’s look at some details.

Without doubt, most of the times in our speech we use contractions.  Apart from making our speech faster and easier, using contractions we also make it more natural and friendly.

On the other side, contractions are not acceptable in formal writing where friendly and informal tone are not suitable.

I should’ve called them earlier! / I should have called them earlier

I must’ve left my umbrella at work / I must have left my umbrella at work

She’s cancelled her appointment / She has cancelled her appointment

Vocabulary choice

Our vocabulary choice is also based on the type of language we are required to use.  In formal English, we use longer and advanced equivalents:

A luck / A deficiency

Big / major

Cheap / Inexpensive

To end / to terminate

To ask/  to enquire

In informal English, we could use phrasal or prepositional verbs instead:

To look into / Investigate

To think about / consider

Go ahead / proceed

Throw away / discard

Level of politeness

In formal writing, especially in business correspondence, we ought to be more polite and formal. British formal correspondence is known for taking it to the highest level. Here are some commonly used phrases and vocabulary for writing formal letters and their equivalents in informal, spoken English:

Please do not hesitate to contact us / call us if needed

It was a great pleasure meeting you / nice to meet you

We would greatly appreciate if you would confirm your availability / let us know if you are free

Kind regards / Cheers

business english correspondence formal letters emails

Another way to sound more formal and polite is to choose certain modal verbs and phrases:

Can I offer you anything? / Could I offer you anything? / May I offer you anything?

Can you open the window? / Could you open the window? / Would you be so kind as to open the window?

Transition words and phrases

Formal writing, such an academic essay or a formal report, requires formal equivalents of transition words and phrases.

Nevertheless / anyway

Furthermore / also

Accordingly / so

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