Formal and informal language

Sometimes it is really hard to know how we must talk to some people, using formal or informal language. In Spanish we can use the pronoun «Usted» to address someone formally but in English there is not such distinction. For that reason, we have to use other kind of resources to use the language in the best possible way.

Formal language: “a language designed for use in situations where natural language (informal English language) is deemed to be unacceptable.”

Use it when we talk to someone who:

  • Is older
  • Is superior in the hierarchy (e.g. a teacher, a boss, authorities)
  • We do not know (a stranger)

Characteristics of formal language: serious, reserved, cautious

Informal language:  is used in situations that are more relaxed and involve people we know well

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues
  • People we already know (and use informal language as well)

Characteristics of informal language: relaxed, friendly, outspoken

Formal language and informal language are associated with particular choices of grammar and vocabulary: contractions, relative clauses without a relative pronoun and ellipsis are more common in informal language.

However, most of the time we use a neutral tone, which is not either formal or informal.

In this table you can see the differences between formal and informal language:

No contractionsUse of contractions
Passive and 3rd person formsUse of pronouns I or we
Lack of colloquialismsUse of colloquialisms
Use of relative pronounsAvoidance of relative pronouns
Full sentences, clear pointsShort and incomplete sentences

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Have a nice week!

María Jesús.

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