What’s Informal Language & When To Use It?

No matter what you are writing, all writing styles can be identified as either formal or informal. You should know when to use formal or informal English at work based on your business, industry, and the topic you want to discuss. Read on to find out what informal language is and when you should be using informal English!

What is Formal Language?

a married businessman wearing a watch and a black suit
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

Formal language is when two people are communicating with each other in a manner that is typically more reserved and formal. Formal language typically uses words, phrasing, and grammatical structures that are less common in daily conversation. This way, the message is delivered in a more polite, respectful, proper, and refined tone.

Formal language is used in situations that are more serious, such as a job interview. Or when you are addressing your university professor. When you’re speaking to someone you don’t know very well, make sure you sound respectful.

What is Informal Language?

Language of informal origin is more casual and spontaneous. The tone is more personal than formal. It is used when communicating with friends or family, either in writing or in conversation.

It is the most common kind of language used by the general public. A person can use it for personal emails, text messages, and even business correspondence. 

The informal style includes a lot of slang, colloquialisms, idioms, and jokes. This is the complete opposite of formal language, which actively avoids using them.

Major Attributes of Informal Language

There are several ways in which to tell whether or not what you are reading is formal or informal.

Contractions & Abbreviations

As you might expect, contractions and abbreviations have no place in formal language, even though they are widely available in informal language. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • I can’t ride a bicycle.
  • I cannot ride a bicycle.
  • Please have your ID cards at hand!
  • Please have your identification cards visible!

Note that using abbreviations for well-known organizations, like UNESCO, does not make your style informal!

Colloquialism & Slang

Slang is NEVER used in a formal environment.

  • The driver was drunk as a skunk.
  • The driver was intoxicated.

Similarly, alternatives to colloquial phrases are preferred.

  • Do you wanna go out tonight?
  • Would you like to go out tonight?

Use of First or Third Person

It is common for informal writing to be very conversational. Often, the writer includes the first person (I and we) and the second person (you and your) that corresponds with the reader.

On the other hand, informal writing third person and passive voice are used heavily.

When to Use Informal Language?

There is a time and place for informal and formal styles. Each style has very different purposes. There is no need to be formal when you are talking with your friends and family. Formality is also not necessary in social media.

To choose which language to use, you should know your audience and your end goal. For example, always use a formal style for academic writing and when you are addressing your superiors.

As a rule of thumb, if you are not sure which to use, just use formal language to be on the safer side.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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