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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:

 

Formal Informal
No contractions Use of contractions
Passive and 3rd person forms Use of pronouns I or we
Lack of colloquialisms Use of colloquialisms
Use of relative pronouns Avoidance of relative pronouns
Full sentences, clear points Short and incomplete sentences

 

Has this post been useful for you? Please post your comments below 😉

 

Have a nice week!

 

María Jesús.

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