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Formal and Informal English

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“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

~Jim Rohn

Formal English

Formal English is more common in writing than speaking, and is used in notices, business letters and legal English. You will hear some examples in spoken English, e.g. airport announcements.

Notice in café: Only food purchased (=bought) here may be eaten on the premises.

Police statement: I apprehended (=caught) the accused outside the supermarket.

Theatre announcement: The play will commence (=start) in two minutes.

Business meeting: The meeting will resume (=start again) in two minutes.

Lawyer in court: My client had a broken ankle, thus (=so) he couldn’t drive the car.

Business letter: I regret to inform you (I’m sorry to say) that we are unable to… (=can’t)

Notice: If you require (=need) further assistance (=more help), please contact…

Airport announcement: Will passengers for Miami proceed to (=go to) gate 36.

Informal English

Informal language is more common in spoken English. For example:

  • most uses of get are informal
  • many phrasal verbs are informal
  • many idioms are informal
  • most shortened words are informal

Informal language is not suitable for formal written English, but in spoken English (and most e-mails or letter to friends) it will help you generally to sound more natural.

I had to go and pick up (=collect) the kids (=children) from school.

I reckon (=reckon) we’ll get (=receive/obtain) the money pretty (=quite) soon.

I’m just going to the loo. (=toilet)

Do you fancy going out? (=Would you like to go out?)

I managed to fix up (=arrange/make) an appointment for 7:30.

My flat is very handy for the shops. (=near the shops and very convenient)

I thought the book was terrific. (=marvelous)

Most of the students are bright. (=intelligent) but Paul is really thick. (=stupid)

What’s up? (=What’s the matter?)

We must get in touch with them (=contact them) very soon.

When we get to (=reach/arrive) the hotel, I’ll have a word with (=speak to) them.

A: Here’s the book I promised you.

B: Oh, cheers. (=thank you. It can also mean ‘goodbye’)

Did you bring your bike? (=bicycle)


This is a form of very language. It includes words used by particular groups of people, e.g. young people often refer to ‘drugs’ as dope, and also words which many people think are impolite and unacceptable in most situations. You should probably not use these words, but some of them are quite common. For example, the word piss is not a slang word meaning to urinate/go to the toilet, and it is also used in a number of other slang expressions with different meanings.

Piss off! (=go away)

He was pissed. (=drunk)

It’s pissing with rain. (=raining heavily)

So, enjoy!


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Mary Jane

Mary Jane Go has been teaching English for over 13 years. She believes that it is very important to learn English and learn it by heart. For her, it's always the right time for a dance party and that hanging out with friends is indispensable.

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