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Formal and Informal English

The difference between formal and informal English is not a difference between correct and incorrect, but a
difference of what is known as register. A register is a variety of language related to a particular subject
matter or area of activity, a set of words and expressions as well as syntactical features that may be said to
characterise that specific area of language. There are many registers: technical, academic, mathematical,
scientific, etc. Very broadly speaking, we can also speak of a “formal” and “informal” register in English. In
writing academic reports and the like, it would be normal to draw most of the vocabulary and expressions
from the formal register, and few, if any, from the informal. This entails avoiding colloquial (everyday) or
slang expressions in your writing assignments. The question of register is far more complicated than indicated
here; for example, there are many degrees of formality and informality. However, below are listed a few
examples which may be of practical assistance.

Informal Formal

They did an experiment The experiment was carried out /


performed

Then the Drive Manager goes through some The Drive Manager then performs / executes
steps to install the programme a series of functions / operations in order
to install the programme

One after the other At regular intervals

They found out what the important things They determined / discovered /
were established / identified the important
properties / characteristics / issues

You can find out all about the survey on Details of the survey are to be found on
page 7 page 7

We think you should discuss the research It is recommended that the research
findings at the next departmental meeting findings are discussed at the next
departmental meeting

Doctors have come up with a new method Doctors have created / established a new
of…. method of….

Safety officers are looking into the problem Safety officers are investigating the problem

The cost of cleaning services has gone up The cost of cleaning services has risen by
25% over the last three years 25% over the last three years

Informal Formal

We do not think it is a good idea to do It is suggested that no action should be


anything at the moment taken at this stage

Many thanks to the staff at “Computers R Thanks are extended to the staff at
Us” for their help on the technical side “Computers R Us” for their technical
support
(Slightly less formal: We would like to
thank ….)

You need to get the patient’s help when When conducting these audiological tests,
doing these hearing tests the active participation of the patient being
tested is required.

There were no big differences between the No significant differences emerged between
three different groups we tested the three different groups tested

A lot of Many / much / a great deal of

This seemed to fix the problem This appeared to rectify the problem

Enough Sufficient

This shows that … This demonstrates…

Numbers are going up Numbers are increasing

They put the plan into action The plan was implemented / carried out

This let them keep the same temperature This allowed / permitted / resulted in /
during the whole experiment ensured a constant temperature throughout
the experiment / for the entire experiment

These results are because of factors like These results are dependent on factors such
weight, age … as weight, age …

Differences between formal and informal English


Formal English Informal English
Used in official, literary, academic, etc. content. Used in everyday, personal conversations.
Typically used in "improvised" speech — when the speaker
Typically used in careful, edited writing — when the
is speaking without preparation, as in a conversation (in
writer has a lot of time to polish his text. Formal
real life or over the phone). Informal English also occurs in
English also occurs in speech, usually when the
writing, usually whenever the writer is writing quickly and
speaker is saying something that was prepared
without editing (for example, in an Internet chatroom or in
beforehand (for example, reading the news or delivering
quick, personal e-mails).
an official speech).
Because informal English is "improvised", it is sloppy.
Speakers (and sometimes writers) often do the following:
Use "delaying expressions" to give themselves time: Well, I
Sentences are longer and more complicated, for think they should have asked us first, you know?
example: Toyota's US sales bounced back in March as Use "correcting expressions" to correct themselves: He's
substantial discounts helped to win back customers not well. I mean, he's not sick, but he's very tired.
who had been shaken by the firm's mass safety recalls. Use "qualifying expressions" to show that what they said is
not exactly right: This whole blogging thing is getting kind
of old.

The standard of correctness is higher. Some phrases Informal English contains useful "everyday phrases", for
are considered correct (or at least acceptable) in example:
Here you are. There you go. (when giving something to
someone)
informal English, but wrong in formal English. For Excuse me?, Come again? (to ask someone to repeat
example: something)
I have made less mistakes. (formal: I have made fewer What do you mean? (to ask for explanation)
mistakes.) So, you're saying that...? (to ask for confirmation)
She's liking it. (formal: She likes it.) Exactly!, I couldn't agree with you more. (to agree with
I feel real good. (formal: I feel really good.) someone)
By the way..., Anyway... (to change the topic)
See you. Take care. (to say goodbye)

A huge number of words and phrases are used mainly


in formal English. For example: nevertheless, to A huge number of words and phrases are used mainly in
disclose, to constitute, to undertake, daunting, informal English. For example: dude, freaking, uh-huh,
impervious, anew, truly, solace, to enchant, frantically,nope (= no), to puke, trashy, grownup, awesome, to chill
sizeable, to clutch, heyday, as it happens, upsurge, out, stuff, hard-up, to tick somebody off, to sell like crazy.
retrieval
Phrasal verbs are used frequently. For example, in informal
situations, people usually say found out instead of
Many (but not all) phrasal verbs are avoided.
discovered, came across instead of encountered and got
away instead of escaped.

Words and phrases are sometimes pronounced in a


shortened and simplified way, e.g. Lemme go!, I'm doin'
fine, Whassup?, Whatcha gonna do?

Examples

Active and Passive voice


(i) Our technician repaired the fault on 12th June. Now it’s your turn to pay us.
(f) Although the fault was repaired on 12th June, payment for this intervention has still not been received.

Phrasal verbs and Latina


(i) The company laid him off because he didn't work much.
(f) His insufficient production conducted to his dismissal.

Direct and Formulaic


(i) I’m sorry but …
(i) I’m happy to say that …
(f) We regret to inform you that …
(f) We have pleasure in announcing that …

Use of Slang
(i) He had to get some money out of a hole in the wall …
(f) He withdrew the amount from an ATM.

Personal form & nominators


(i) If you lose it, then please contact us as soon as possible.
(f) Any loss of this document should be reported immediately …

Linking words
(i) The bank can’t find the payment you say you’ve made.
(f) Notwithstanding that the payment has been sent the bank fails to acknowledge it.

Revitalised Sentences
(i) Anybody or any company.
(f) … any natural person who, and any legal entity which …

Modal usage
(i) If you need any help give us a call.
(f) Should you require any assistance, please feel free to contact us …

Singular & Plural Person


(i) I can help you to solve this problem. Call me!
(f) We can assist in the resolution of this matter. Contact us on our toll-free number.

Dictionary of Formal and Informal English

Informal Formal
About … Regarding / Concerning …
Agree with … Be bound by …
And As well as …
Bearing in mind Reference being made to …
Because … As a result of / due to (the fact) …
Begin Commence
But While / Whereas
Careful / Cautious Prudential
Carry out Effect
Check Verify
Enough Sufficient
Fill me in Inform / Tell
Find out Ascertain
Follow Duly observe
Get Receive
Get in touch Contact
Go over Exceed
Has to be Shall be
Have to give Submit
If … Should …
If … or not. Whether … or not.
If you don't … Failing / Failure to…
If you've got any questions … Should you have any queries …
In accordance with … Pursuant to
In the red Overdrawn
Involve Entail
Lost Inadvertently mislaid
Make sure Ensure
Many Several / Numerous
Order Authorise
Pay Settle
Put in writing Provide written confirmation
Sorry! We regret …
Supply Furnish
Take away Withdraw
Tell Disclose
Trusted Entrusted
We don't want to do this … This a course of action we are anxious to avoid …
We'll call the law … We will have no alternative but involving our legal …
When we get … On receipt
Whenever we like … Without prior notice …
Write (e.g. Cheque) Issue (e.g. Cheque)
Written Shown / Indicated

Informal Formal
Active Voice Passive Voice
Phrasal Verbs Latinate Verbs
Direct Language Formulaic Language
Possible use of Slang No use of Slang
Personal Form Nominator
Little use of Conjunctions Linking Words
Few Revitalised Sentences Revitalised Sentences
Direct Style Modal Usage
1st Person Singular 1st Person Plural