Improve your English grammar with the BBC. What’s the difference between formal and informal English? How do you speak more informally? Watch this free online English lesson to find out how.
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Hi, Sian here for BBC Learning English. In this Masterclass we’re going to look at some differences between formal and informal English. Hey, how’s it going? Good afternoon, how are you? Sometimes formal and informal can seem like two different languages. In the same way you wouldn’t normally wear shorts and a t-shirt to a job interview, if you use language that’s too formal or too informal, you can give a bad impression. Let’s look at some differences between formal and informal English. Now, I received an email this morning. Have a look at this email – do you think the language is formal or informal – and why?
Dear Mrs Brown,
I’m writing to find out whether you have any jobs in your company this summer.
At the mo I’m studying Economics at uni.
I have been working part-time in a shop and recently they promoted me to the role of manager.
I am enthusiastic. I work hard. I pay attention to detail.
Ok, so that email used informal language and it’s too informal for this style of letter. We’re going to look at four features that make this informal and we’re going to change it to make it more formal.
Number one: choice of vocabulary. In informal English we use more common words and more phrasal verbs. For example here we have a phrasal verb: find out. It would be better to use a more formal equivalent like enquire. Same with jobs, this is quite informal, so instead let’s use vacancies here. Instead we have “I’m writing to enquire whether you have any vacancies.”
Number two. It’s more common in informal language to use abbreviations, contractions, shortened forms of verbs. Let’s have a look. So, here we have at the mo, which is short for at the moment. This is OK when you’re speaking, but not when you’re writing. Here, we can use currently which is even more formal. Same here, uni is short for university, so don’t use this short form in a letter. “Currently, I am studying Economics at university.”
Quite often in formal language we choose passive structures over active. Let’s have a look here. The active sentences they promoted me is quite informal – it’d be much better to use a passive form here to make it more formal: I was promoted. So, “Recently I was promoted to the role of manager.” This doesn’t mean don’t use active structures in a formal letter, but have a think about whether a passive one is more appropriate.
Finally, in informal English, short, simple sentences are much more common. Whereas in formal English, we use more complex sentence structures. Take a look at this one. Here we have three short, simple sentences and this is fine in informal English, but in formal English it’s better to use a complex structure. We can do this by adding relative pronouns or linkers. For example, “I am an enthusiastic person who works hard and pays attention to detail.
So, would you kindly visit our website… ah, we’re friends, that’s too formal. Go to our website bbclearningenglish.com for more information about this and to practise formal and informal English. See you soon – goodbye!