formal and informal language · Uncategorized

Hop In – When to Use Formal and Informal Language

As you know, you shouldn’t use words like guys, cool or super in a job interview or when you’re drinking tea with the Queen. They’re informal words. You can of course use them when you’re chatting with friends or colleagues. 

On the other hand, there are also words that may be too formal in certain situations. Just as you wouldn’t talk about kids if you were giving a lecture about education, you probably wouldn’t talk about offspring either, as this is a very formal word that is used in legal documents or religious texts. The neutral word children is appropriate.

Another example, you probably wouldn’t say you have made an error when you forgot your friend’s birthday, but you’d say it was a mistake or a slip-up. (This last word is informal.)

However, there are exceptions:

Some informal words have become so common that they’re not really informal anymore. For instance, whereas in the past many English teachers would have advised you to avoid a lot in writing, today it’s not considered poor usage. However, just to make sure you keep very old people happy, write “many” in formal letters or emails.

Likewise, in the past teachers and business executives would frown if you used contracted verb forms in writing, such as don’t, wouldn’t, I’ll, they’d, and many more, but today it’s perfectly okay.

Something that is not okay, however, is to use symbols instead of (parts of) words, such as u 2 for you too, or xx for kisses. You can do this in text messages, but in other forms of communication it looks unprofessional.

Enough lecturing! Let’s try some exercises. Please find the answers at the bottom of the page.

Exercise 1:

Match the informal words on the left with the formal words on the right:

Informal Words Formal Words
guys yes
bike TV
yeah bathroom
stuff refrigerator
phone buttocks
telly things
fridge hungry
butt telephone
starving bicycle
loo people


Exercise 2:

Think of a phrase that can replace the informal phrase, and that has the same meaning:

1 “Here you go.” –  “Cheers.”

2 Hop on the bus.

3 I’ll pop by to say hello later this afternoon.

4 I’m dying for a cuppa.

5 We haven’t got wheels, so we’ll call a taxi.

Scroll down for the answers.







Exercise 1:

Informal Words Formal Words
guys people
bike bicycle
yeah yes
stuff things
phone telephone
telly TV
fridge refrigerator
butt buttocks
starving hungry
loo bathroom


Exercise 2:

1 “Here you are.” –  “Thanks.”

2 Get on the bus.

3 I’ll come to visit you later this afternoon.

4 I’d like a cup of tea.

5 We don’t have a car, so we’ll call a taxi.


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