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Why is it important?
Would you wear this to a job interview? No, because it’s too informal.
Would you wear this to the beach? No, because it’s too formal.
In the same way, using English that is too formal or too informal for the situation can cause a bad impression.
Three levels of formality in English
Formal – Textbooks, official reports, academic articles, essays, business letters, contracts, official speeches
Semi-formal – Day-to-day interaction with colleagues and teachers, popular magazines/books, interviews, when talking with someone in authority or whom you respect
Informal – Interacting with friends, speaking or chatting online
1. Longer/more complex sentences
Punctuation, proper grammar, and correct sentence structure are very important. A formal sentence you might see in an academic journal:
Research has shown that learning a second language, in addition to leading to expanded career and social opportunities, can also expand the reasoning capability of the brain, although this finding is disputed by some scientists.
A less formal way to express the same idea:
Learning another language can improve your career and social life. Some people also say it can make you smarter, but others disagree.
2. Larger and less common words
A formal sentence you might see in an economic report:
The economy is currently quite robust; nevertheless, some specialists predict an imminent recession.
A simpler, less formal way to say the same thing:
The economy is very strong right now, but some specialists say we’ll have a recession soon.
Some less formal words and their formal equivalents:
|Less formal:help (n.)|
Download a list of more formal/informal words
3. Avoid phrasal verbs
The price went up.
The price rose/increased.
The client asked for a contract.
The client requested a contract.
The problems have come back.
The problems have returned.
We will cut down on spending.
We will reduce spending.
4. Avoid contractions
I’m, you’re, can’t, don’t, wasn’t, it’s…
The shipment hasn’t arrived.
The shipment has not arrived.
They’re manufactured in China.
They are manufactured in China.
He’s the director of marketing.
He is the director of marketing.
We’d like to inform you…
We would like to inform you…
What about this? – The company’s employees
This is OK to use in formal English because it’s a possessive, NOT a contraction! It means “The employees of the company.”
With possessives, you can use either ‘s or “of the” – but try to avoid using “of the” multiple times in a single phrase:
the terms of the client’s contract
NOT: the terms of the contract of the client
5. NO idioms, slang, text speak
Idiom: The software is a piece of cake.
- The software is quite user-friendly.
- The software is extremely easy to use.
Slang: A million bucks in profit.
- A million dollars in profit.
Text speak: Tks & we look 4ward 2 meeting u.
- Thanks, and we look forward to meeting you.
Also avoid shortened words:
The info was incomplete.
The information was incomplete.
The results have arrived from the lab.
The results have arrived from the laboratory.
fruits and veggies
fruits and vegetables
1. Phrasal verbs & contractions = OK
Could you look over this report?
look over = review and check for errors
She came up with a great idea.
came up with = created, invented, thought of
I’m available on Friday morning.
The directors weren’t happy.
2. Some idioms are OK, but avoid slang and text speak
This project is on the back burner.
on the back burner = not a priority at the moment
We’re operating in the red.
in the red = no money, negative cash flow
Semi-formal (inviting your boss): “Would you like to join me for lunch?”
Informal (inviting your best friend): “Hey, wanna grab a bite to eat?”
Semi-formal: “Hello, how are you?”
Semi-formal: “The conference was great!”
Informal: “It was awesome!” “It was the bomb!”
3. Use polite English
Say “I’d like…” instead of “I want…”
When making requests, use “could you” and “please,” don’t just give commands: Say “Could you please call me later?” and not just “Call me later.”
Another part of polite English is making criticisms and negative comments in an indirect way:
I’m afraid you’re mistaken.
I’m of a different opinion. / I see it differently.
This is terrible work.
This could be improved.
I don’t like it.
I don’t really care for it.
It’s not my cup of tea.
1. Shorter, simpler sentences – perfect grammar is not as important
(So don’t be so nervous about mistakes when speaking!)
“Have you finished your work yet?” –> “Finished your work yet?”
“I’m really liking this book.”
(“like” should technically not be in the -ING form here)
“But I don’t think so.”
Starting sentences with “but,” ending sentences with prepositions, using sentence fragments – these are all done in informal spoken English.
- um, uh, like, lemme see… = hesitation, when you need a moment to think before speaking
- I mean… = to clarify
- …you know? = to check if the other person understands
- Gotcha. = I understand
- How come? = Why?
- Yeah right. = a sarcastic way to say “I don’t believe you.”
- I’ll say! = I definitely agree with you
- wow! = surprise
- oops = accident
- yuck = that’s disgusting
3. Phrasal verbs, slang, and idioms are used VERY frequently
This is one reason that watching movies and TV shows in English is difficult… even if you have good vocabulary and grammar! You may not have learned the phrasal verbs, slang, and idioms in your textbook.
Phrasal verb: “I won’t put up with this!”
put up with = tolerate
Idiom: “Could you give me a hand?”
give me a hand = help me
Slang: “I aced the test!”
aced = got an excellent grade
The Phrasal Verbs in Conversation Course and the English Idioms Course can help you learn these expressions in context!
4. Reductions when speaking
(in both semi-formal and informal English)
He’s gonna be angry.
gonna = going to
I wanna learn how to ski.
wanna = want to
Didja like the movie?
didja = did you
We hafta leave now.
hafta = have to
I bought apples n grapes.
n = and
Courses to help you learn:
Business English Course – Focuses on formal and semi-formal English used in meetings, presentations, interviews, letters and e-mails, and vocabulary for jobs and careers.
Everyday English Speaking Course – Daily situations, socializing, phrases, expressions not found in textbooks, how native English speakers say things in real life.
Phrasal Verbs in Conversation – Teaches phrasal verbs in context, through dialogues, making it easier to learn and understand them. Quizzes and writing exercises help you put the phrasal verbs into practice immediately.
Thanks for attending!
Clichés, Slang, Informal, and Formal English
Clichés are words and phrases that tend to be overused and do not make for good writing. They should be avoided in professional and academic writing.
Some examples of clichés are:
- Raining like cats and dogs.
- Like a pig in mud.
- Over the hill.
- In the dog house.
- Back against the wall.
- Under the gun.
- My two cents.
- Stubborn as a mule.
- Bite your tongue.
- Dyed in the wool.
- Wrong side of the bed.
- The calm before the storm.
- Hair of the dog,
- On thin ice.
- Eye for an eye.
- The third time is the charm.
Slang is the use of words that are not considered standard English. It should never be used in academic or professional writing. Often, these words are developed from fads or simple laziness. Sometimes slang is used by a given group and those outside the group do not understand it. Slang can also be insulting to some people or groups.
Some slang is associated with certain time periods. In the 1960s, young people used terms like groovy, cool, dude, far-out, and trippin'! Some of those terms are still used. Modern slang includes boo (boyfriend or girlfriend), baby boomers (people born between 1944 and 1963), green (money), my bad (my mistake), and shotgun (calling dibs on the front seat of a car).
The advent of the internet and other technology has added internet and texting slang to the English repertoire. Unfortunately, this kind of slang is causing many to become lazy in their writing.
Some examples of internet and texting slang are (NoSlang.com, 2010):
- d/l- download
- OMG!- Oh my God!
- LOL- Laugh out loud
- dat- that
- m2- me too
- m9- mine
- messg- message
- s'pose- suppose
- sed- said
Informal and Formal English
Informal English includes conversational language. Contractions such as can't, won't, and I'm. Contractions are not used in formal English. Formal English is carefully worded as in academic or professional writing. Word choice is important in formal English.
For example, in formal English one would use the word whom instead of the word who in certain situations:
Formal English: With whom did you study?
Informal English: Who did you study with?
Formal English: Did you go to the store?
Informal English: Go to the store?
Formal English: Did you finish the assignment that the professor posted?
Informal English: Did you finish the assignment the professor posted?
Clichés, slang, and contractions have no place in formal English. When one is writing an academic, business, or professional paper, email, or other correspondence, the rules of formal English must be followed. When emailing or texting friends, informal English, along with clichés, slang, and contractions is perfectly acceptable.
NoSlang.com.(2010). Internet slang dictionary & translator. Retrieved from http://www.noslang.com/dictionary/