What is Formal Language and Where to Use It?

What is formal language? That’s the first question that comes to mind when trying to pick a tone. So let’s answer the question.

What is Formal Language?

man wearing a black suit, brown leather shoes and a watch.
Photo by Jeremy Beadle on Unsplash

When addressing someone we do not know or respect, we use the formal style of speech and writing.

Formal language is commonly used in work-related correspondence and other formal communications. Formal language serves as a form of official correspondence, used in the business world and academic circles.

It is helpful in navigating formal conversations, such as those between employers and employees, between teachers and students, and between shop managers.

Generally speaking, formal language uses standard English. Additionally, sentences have more complex structures, personal pronouns are rarely used, and colloquial or slang terms are seldom found.

Difference Between Informal and Formal Language

There are different uses for formal and informal language. Language choice, tone, and ways the words are put together vary between styles.

A language that is formal is less personal. When writing for professional or academic purposes, such as university assignments, it is favorable.

The language of formal words is not based on colloquialisms, contractions, or first-person pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘We’.

A language that is informal and spontaneous is more casual. When communicating with friends or family, either through written correspondence or conversation, it is helpful.

Informal language is used to write personal emails, text messages, and occasionally business correspondence. Informal language evokes more personal feelings than formal language. 

Grammar is more intricate, and sentences are generally longer in formal languages. 

Where to Use Formal Language?

Formal language is most appropriate for any formal occasion- academia, conferences, debates, public speeches, interviews. Use formal language when you need to explain a topic or idea to a teacher, a classmate, or the public. 

When to use formal English at work will depend on your business, industry, and topic. You should avoid any mistakes and sound professional when working from a foreign country or with people you know. Formal language facilitates this.

Use formal language when you need to explain a topic or idea to a teacher, a classmate, or the public. If you are teaching your readers, you should use a serious and exciting form of language. Explanatory essays, research reports, and other academic works are best suited to this language.

You might say something that will add weight to what you are saying or sound more impressive or sophisticated using formal vocabulary. If this is the case, you should generally resist doing that. When you use formal English in everyday situations, it can feel pompous or grandiose. You may make what you have written appear humorous by using formal vocabulary deliberately to create the effect.

To Wrap Up

Formal language is a language that is used with a proper protocol between two people.

It’s often used in business meetings or in professional settings because it sets up the situation for safe and productive conversation. This language is different than informal language, which is often how people speak to one another in everyday life.

If you are not sure to use either formal or informal language, you should stay on the safe side and use formal language. No one is going to be offended by formality, however, your professor may not take your informal tone kindly!

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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