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Informal Language vs Formal Language

formal language

Mr.Maru: I had fun at Doggy World today. How about you?
Sparky: It was totally legit.
Mr.Maru: Totally legit?
Sparky: Yeah! It was off the hook.
Mr.Maru: Have you been listening to Sloop Dog again?
Sparky: Yeah. He is the bomb!
Mr.Maru: I’m sure he is.

When do you need to use formal language?  When do you use informal language?  Is it bad to always use informal language or formal language?  There are different types of speaking you should use when talking to certain people.  Let’s talk about some examples of when to use certain language.

formal languageFormal Language

Although English does not have a strong set of rules for formal language, speakers need to be careful how they speak in different situations.  Formal language is often used in official public notices, business situations, and polite conversations with strangers.  Formal language has stricter grammar rules and often uses more difficult vocabulary.  For example,

He is going to the dance tonight.  NOT He’s going to the dance tonight. (no contractions)
George has received the letter.  NOT George received the letter.  (use the present perfect more often)
She wore the hat that I gave her. NOT She wore the hat I gave her. (keep the relative pronoun ‘that’)
Do you want to go to the park? NOT You want to go to the park? (do not delete words)

Vocabulary is often a little different as well.

Please refrain from smoking. (formal)
Please don’t smoke. (informal)

You must adhere to these guidelines. (formal)
You must follow these guidelines. (informal)

There are numerous differences with vocabulary that can’t all be listed here.

informal languageInformal Language

English is often spoken informally especially in the States, Canada, and Australia.  Informal language is all right for friends, co-workers, host family, or service staff (at a restaurant for example).  Informal language has less strict grammar rules and often has shortened sentences.  For example,

Y’wanna go to the dance tonight? NOT Do you want to go to the dance tonight?
I dunno NOT I don’t know.
I can’t speak English.  NOT I can not speak English.

Vocabulary is often different as well.

That sucks. (informal)
That’s too bad. (formal)

That’s legit/sweet/awesome. (informal)
That’s great. (formal)

Informal language is usually spoken more than written.  Because it is spoken, informal language can be very different in every area.  People in California might say ‘legit’, but people in New York might say ‘sweet’.  Informal language is also constantly changing.  New words are added all the time and people stop using older words.  This can make it difficult for a learner to understand the language.

Informal Language vs. Formal Language

So, when do you use informal language and when do you use formal language?  This is a difficult question.  There are many situations where both are completely acceptable.  Also, as a language learner, people will understand if you make a few mistakes with formal and informal language.  There are some guidelines though:

1) Start using formal language first.  It is always the safest.

2) Do more listening when you first meet someone.  Listen for the words the person you are talking to uses.  Try to use those same words.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask about a word.  One of the best ways to learn is by asking questions.

Do you think you understand?  Let’s take a short quiz.

1) You are meeting your host parents in America for the first time.  What is the best way to greet them?

A) Hey, what’s up?
B) It is a pleasure to meet you.
C) Hello, nice to meet you.

2) You are meeting your best friend from Australia for dinner.  You haven’t seen each other for awhile.  What is the best way to greet them?

A) Long time no see.  What’s up?
B) I haven’t seen you for such a long time.  It’s a pleasure to see you again.
C) Hi.


Boss: Hey Carlos, can ya (you) help me for a sec?
Carlos: Yes, what do you need?
Boss: Can ya fax this to ABC company ASAP.

What should Carlos say next?

A) Yes sir.  I’ll be happy to do that right away for you.
B) Sure, no prob.
C) My pleasure.  I’d love to fax that report.


1) B) – When first meeting someone important (like your host family), it is important to use formal language.
2) A) – A) is the best answer.  B) is very formal.  You can use this in business situations. C) is too weak.
3) B) – B) is the best answer.

Thanks for stopping by.  Thank you to everyone that voted for EnglishSpark.com at bab.la!  If you have a difficult grammar question please email me at englishspark@yahoo.com




Originally posted 2010-05-24 01:14:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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