Formal and Informal English

Formal and Informal English 

Formal English is the type of language educated people use on certain special occasions and in acadamic, technical and scholary writing. It is also used in official reports, regulations and business letters.

Informal English (also called 'colloquial') is the everyday language of the same group of people. It is used in ordinary conversation, personalFo letters, private interactions, advertisements, popular newspapers and broadcasting. 

Informal English is different from and more often used than formal English. 

A brief description of the two varieties of English follows.

1. Vocabulary: There are many differences of vocabulary between formal and informal English. 

Much of the vocabulary of formal English which comes from Greek, Latin and French is long and difficult, whereas the vocabulary of informal English is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is short and simple. 

Here are some examples:



I will acquaint him with the facts.

I will let him know the facts.

The Minister adumbrated the foreign policy of the Govt in Parliament.

The Minister outlined the foreign policy of the Govt in Parliament. 

The Govt will do everything possible to ameliorate the lot of the common man.

The Govt will do everything possible to improve the lot of the common man.

The DC apprised the Govt of the flood situation.

The DC informed the Govt of the flood situation.

Please close the door behind you.

Shut the door behind you, please.

The examination will commence on 20th January.

The exam will begin/start on 20th January.

I deem it my duty to help the poor.

I think it my duty to help the poor.

He endeavoured to make an impression on the girl.

He tried to make an impression on the girl.

She evinced great interest in his paintings.

She showed great interest in his paintings.

We must expedite development work.

We must hasten development work.

Please do not expectorate on the bus.

Do not spit on the bus, please.

We will extend all possible help.

We will give all possible help.

He felicitated me on my promotion.

He congratulated me on my promotion.

He hails from Barisal.

He comes from Barisal.

I located him in the library.

I found him in the library.

She obtained a first class in the M. A. examination.

She got a first class in the M.A. examination.

The soldiers proceeded to the front.

The soldiers went to the front.

He has purchased a car.

He has bought a car.

The flood rendered many people homeless.

The flood made many people homeless.

He resides in Gulshan.

He lives in Gulshan.

We require help.

We want help.

The old man retired for the night.

The old man went to bed.

Please step this way.

Come this way, please.

We have transmitted the information to the authorities.

We have sent the information to the authorities.

Khaled was a valiant general.

Khaled was a brave general.

The project is not viable.

The project is not workable.

2. In informal context native speakers tend to use phrasal verbs (two-word verbs) in place of single lexical items which usually occur in formal or neutral (neither formal nor informal) context.



She alighted from the train.

She got off the train.

He arises at 6 o'clock.

He gets up at 6 o'clock.

We are awaiting the arrival of the guests.

We are waiting for the arrival of the guests.

They demolished the building.

They pulled down the building.

Distribute the leaflets.

Give out the leaflets.

Some prisioners escaped from the jail.

Some prisoners got away from the jail.

They have issued a statement.

They have put out a statement.

About a hundred people attended the meeting. 

About a hundred people showed up at the meeting.

The other day I met an old friend unexpectedly.

The other day I ran into an old friend.

Have you recuperated from the shock?

Have you got over the shock?

He reiected the offer of help.

He turned down the offer of help.

Submit the tutorials tomorrow.

Hand in the tutorials tomorrow.

When did you return?

When did you get back?

The chairman has postponed the meeting.

The chairman has put off the meeting.

The workers have withdrawn the strike.

The workers have called off the strike.

The army surrendered.

The army gave in.

Will you increase the volume of the radio?

Will you turn up the volume of the radio?

He rasembles his father.

He takes after his father.

I need a cup of tea.

I could do with a cup of tea.

3. Contracted verb forms are used only in informal English.

Formal / Written

Informal / Spoken

He does not smoke.

He doesn't smoke.

He has not seen the film.

He hasn't seen the film.

We are not native speakers of English.

We aren't native speakers of English.

You have got a nice house.

Yo've got a nice house.

You are very kind.

You're very kind.

I hope you will come to my party.

I hope you'll come to my party.

I would like to stay with you for a week.

I'd like to stay with you for a week.

4. Formal language is impersonal. It also uses passive voice and sentences beginning with introductory ‘it’. Informal language, on the other hand, has a personal touch.



A prompt reply to the letter will be appreciated.

I'll appreciate a prompt reply to the letter.

This is to inform the applicants that the interview will be held on 15th February.

I'm writing to inform you that the interview will be held on 15th February.

The delay in making payment is regretted.

I'm sorry for the delay in making payment.

It is suggested that you send the manuscript to another publisher.

Why don’t you send the manuscript to another publisher?

5. In addition to the above differences between formal and informal English, there are many words, phrases, expressions and sentences which are formal. Some of these and their informal equivalents are given below.





Thank You.



So long.

lt is a pleasure to meet you.

Nice to meet you.

I am afraid I have no idea.

I don't know.

I do not think we have met before.

I don’t know him.

I beg your pardon.


Would you pass me the salt?

Pass me the salt, will you?

Would you like another piece of cake ?

Have another piece of cake.

Could I have some more rice? 

Can I have some more rice?

I think you might be mistaken. 

I don't think that’s right.

Would you like to go for a walk? 

Let's go for a walk?

He has a great deal of experience.

He has a lot of exprience.

6. Structures : There are also differences of structures between formal and informal English. 


(a) Use of there are with plural names is formal; there’s predominates in informal English.

Formal: There are too many political parties in Bangladesh.

Informal: There's too many political parties in Bangladesh. 

Formal: There are two chairs in this room.

Informal: There's two chairs in this room. 

(b) Use of the initial preposition to introduce a relative clause is formal;

a construction with a final preposition is informal.

Formal: I have read the book about which you spoke. 

Informal: I have read the book you spoke about.

Formal: This is the man to whom I talked yesterday.

Informal: This is the man I talked to yesterday.

Formal: The man with whom I am Staying is a friend of mine.

Informal: The man I am staying with is a friend of mine.

(C) Use of be in the passive voice is formal or neutral; get is informal.

Formal: He was hurt in the accident. 

Informal: He got hurt in the accident.

Formal: He was married last year. 

Informal: He got married last year.

(d) Use of non-finites is formal; finite clause and coordination are informal.

Formal: Having sung the national anthem, the boys went into the classroom.

Informal: The boys sang the national anthem and went into the classroom. 

Formal: The meeting over, Kamal came home. 

Informal: Kamal came home after the meeting.

(e) Nouns such as time and weather are formal; it is informal.

Formal: The time now is 10 o'clock. 

It's now 10 o'clock.

Informal: The weather today is wet. 

It's wet today.

(f) Use of ''of'- possessive is formal; ‘s signals informality.

Formal: The songs of Tagore are very popular.

Informal: Tagore’s songs are very popular. 

(g) The substitutes that, those are typical of formal English, whereas one and ones substitutes occur in informal English.

Formal: The novels he wrote 10 years ago are more interesting than those he is writing now.

Informal: The novels he wrote 10 years ago are more interesting than the ones he is writing now.

(h) Use of generic personal pronoun one is formal, whereas generic you is informal.

Formal: One should take regular exercise.

Informal: You should take regular exercise.

Formal: One never knows what will happen tomorrow.

Informal: You never know what will happen tomorrow.


(I) Use of whom is formal; who is informal

Formal: Whom did you meet yesterday? 

Informal: Who did you meet yesterday?

Formal: Whom do you want to marry? 

Informal: Who do you want to marry?

(j) In informal English if the first verb in a conditional clause is ‘had’, ‘should’, the verb can be put at the beginning of the clause and ‘if' can be omitted.

Formal: Had I known, I would not have gone there.

Informal: If I had known, I would not have gone there.

Formal: Should you decide to give up smoking, he would welcome it.

Informal: If you should decide to give up smoking, we would welcome it.

Now the important question is; how do you decide whether to use formal or informal language? You decide according to the

siltualion you are in. If the situation is formal, you use formal language. If the situation is informal, you use informal language.

The next question is : how do you know whether the situation is formal or informal? You should take four things into consideration in deciding the nature of the situation.

(a) The Setting: the place or the occasion

(b) The Topic: what you are wriling or talking about

(c) Your Social Relationship: friend, stranger, employer, employee

(d) Your Psychological Atlitude: What you feel about the topic or ther other person.

All four factors combine to influence your choice of the level of formalily.*

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