Everyday English 2
Everyday English 2

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Everyday English 2

1.2 Formal and informal language

Now that you have identified different formal and informal situations, it is time to look at formal and informal language.

  • Formal language is a style of speech used when you are speaking to someone you don’t know or on whom you want to make a good impression.

  • Informal language is a style of speech where choice of words and grammar tends to be familiar rather than formal. It is used when you know, or want to get to know, the person you are speaking to.

Activity 3 Formal and informal phrases

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Match each formal phrase to its more informal equivalent.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. I am unable to attend tomorrow.

  2. Would you like anything else?

  3. I am ringing to enquire about the job.

  4. The manager will return your call.

  5. I received your email.

  6. He returned the item to the shop.

  • a.I got your email.

  • b.I can’t come tomorrow.

  • c.I’m ringing to ask about the job.

  • d.The manager will phone you back.

  • e.Anything else?

  • f.He took back the item to the shop.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = e
  • 3 = c
  • 4 = d
  • 5 = a
  • 6 = f

Discussion

In some of these examples, simply replacing a word makes something sound more formal: ‘attend’ rather than ‘come’; ‘enquire’ rather than ‘ask’; ‘received’ rather than ‘got’; ‘returned’ rather than ‘took back’.

Using a different phrase can also make something sound more formal: ‘am unable’ rather than ‘can’t’; ‘return your call’ rather than ‘phone you back’.

In the following example, using a full sentence rather than a shortened form makes it sound more formal: ‘Would you like anything else?’ rather than ‘Anything else?’.

Slang is very informal language that is usually spoken rather than written. It is commonly used among friends when speaking or sending text messages.

Activity 4 The difference between slang and formal language

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Can you match each formal phrase to its slang equivalent?

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. She was devastated when the team lost.

  2. He had his wallet stolen.

  3. They were intoxicated on Saturday night.

  4. She went shopping with her friends.

  5. His son can be outspoken at times.

  6. I’m feeling hungry.

  • a.His son can be gobby at times.

  • b.He had his wallet nicked.

  • c.I’m feeling peckish.

  • d.She was gutted when the team lost.

  • e.She went shopping with her mates.

  • f.They were legless on Saturday night.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = d
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = f
  • 4 = e
  • 5 = a
  • 6 = c

Discussion

The slang words used here – gutted, nicked, legless, mates, gobby, peckish – are words that might be spoken or texted among friends. It is unlikely that you would see these words in formal writing.

Formal language is more likely to be grammatically correct. For example, you would say ‘I have not’ rather than the grammatically incorrect ‘I ain’t’.

When speaking and listening, you should think about three important questions:

  • Who am I speaking to?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Is this a formal or an informal situation?

Activity 5 Formal and informal phrases

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think about each situation below and decide whether it’s formal or informal. Then write a phrase that you might use in that situation.

1. Making an appointment at the doctor’s surgery

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2. Chatting with friends

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3. Parents’ evening at a children’s school

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4. Job interview

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5. A community drop-in session

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Discussion

Compare your ideas with the examples below.

Situation Formal/informal Example
1. Making an appointment at the doctor’s surgery Formal Good afternoon. I’d like to book an appointment, please.
2. Chatting with friends Informal Hey! You all right?
3. Parents’ evening at a children’s school Formal It’s nice to see you again.
4. Job interview Formal Good morning. I’m pleased to meet you.
5. A community drop-in session Informal Hi! I thought I’d pop in today.

In this section you have:

  • looked at what makes a confident speaker
  • identified formal and informal situations
  • considered the differences between formal, informal and slang language.

You will now turn to the important subject of non-verbal communication.

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