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Formal Language

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Formal Language

Formal language is commonly used in work-related correspondence and other official forms of communication. You might also use formal language if you want to make a good impression.

Formal language definition

Formal language is a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we don't know well, or someone we respect.

For example, an email that uses formal language would sound like this:

Dear Mr Smith,

I hope you are doing well.

I would like to invite you to our annual Ancient History conference. The conference will take place between April 15th and April 20th in our brand new facility.

Please confirm if you are able to attend the conference by March 15th. You can secure your place by filling in the attached form.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Martha Winding, Phd

There are several indications that the email uses formal language:

  • The use of titles, such as "Mr" and "Dr".
  • The lack of contractions - "I would like" instead of "I'd like".
  • The use of conventional formal phrases, such as "Looking forward to hearing from you" and "Yours sincerely".

Formal language theory - what is the role of formal language?

The role of formal language is to serve the purpose of official correspondence, such as writing professional or academic texts.

  • Formal language also helps navigate conversations that need to have a formal tone, such as conversations between an employer and an employee, a teacher and a student, a customer and a shop manager etc.
  • Formal language is used to convey and receive knowledge and expertise as well as to give a sense of occasion. Formal language is the most appropriate language style on any official occasion - academia, conferences, debates, public speeches, interviews.

Formal language examples

Let's take a job interview, for example, and say someone is applying to work at a primary school. Which language style (formal or informal) would be better to use to get the job?

Formally: “I believe that I am the best candidate for this position. I was told you have already reviewed my Diploma in Education. Furthermore, as you can see from my two references, I did my work experience working at a summer camp for children aged 5 to 8. ”

Informal: “I'm gonna do a great job here! You know, I've got all the things you need to have a look at, like the papers. I went to uni, I've worked with kids before.

If the speaker wants their expertise on a particular subject to be conveyed, they must use formal language.

Consider another example - a scientist presenting their research at a conference. Which language style (formal or informal) would be better?

Formal: I would like to present my paper on the analysis of broadband night sky airglow intensity. Data were obtained at three different locations between the 21st of March and the 15th of June. The observations indicate previously unknown sources that occur during solar minimum.

Informal: I want to tell you about my research. It's about broadband night sky airglow intensity. I did it at three places, from March to June. What I found is that there are new sources no one knew about before. It seems like they show up when it's solar minimum.

In this case, the speaker needs to use formal language in order to sound credible and to gain the respect and the attention of the audience.

Difference between informal (natural) and formal language?

Formal and informal language are two contrasting styles of language that are used in different contexts. There are some clear differences between formal and informal language. We will explore them now so that it's easy for you to spot them!

Grammar

The grammar that is used in formal language can seem more complex than in informal language. Additionally, formal language sentences are usually longer than the sentences that use informal language.

Let's take a look at this example:

Formal language: We regret to inform you that you would not be able to purchase the item that you ordered on October 8th.

Informal language: We're really sorry but you can't buy what you ordered last week.

Note: both sentences state the same thing in different styles:

  • The formal language sentence is more complex and longer.
  • The informal language sentence goes straight to the point.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are commonly used in formal language.

For instance, consider this formal language sentence that uses the modal verb `` would '':

Would you kindly inform us of the time of your arrival, please?

Contrarily, modal verbs are not used in informal language. The same request would sound different in an informal language sentence:

Can you please tell us when you're arriving?

The sentence is still polite but it's not formal, therefore there is no need for the use of a modal verb.

Phrasal verbs

Informal language uses phrasal verbs, but they are less common in formal language .

Spot the difference:

Formal language: You are aware that you can count on our unwavering support on all occasions.

Informal language: You know we'll always back you up, no matter what.

The phrasal verb 'back (someone) up' appears in the informal language sentence. In the formal language sentence, phrasal verbs are not appropriate so the word that is used instead is 'support'.

Pronouns

Formal language is more official and less personal than informal language. That is why in many cases formal language uses the pronoun '' we '' instead of the pronoun '' I ''.

Consider this:

We are pleased to inform you that you are hired.

In informal language, the same message would be conveyed through this sentence:

I'm happy to let you know that you're a part of the team now!

Vocabulary

The vocabulary used in formal language can differ from the vocabulary used in informal language. Certain words are more common in formal language and less common in informal language.

Let's have a look at some synonyms:

  • purchase (formal) vs buy (informal)
  • assist (formal) vs help (informal)
  • inquire (formal) vs ask (informal)
  • disclose (formal) vs explain (informal)
  • discuss (formal) vs talk (informal)

Contractions

Contractions are not acceptable in formal language.

Take a look at this example of the use of contractions in informal language:

I. can't go home.

In formal language, the same sentence would not use contractions:

I. cannot return to my home.

Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms

Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms are yet another tool used to simplify language. Naturally, the use of abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms is common in informal language but it does not appear in formal language .

Consider these examples:

  • ASAP (informal) vs as soon as possible (formal)
  • photo (informal) vs photograph (formal)
  • ADHD (informal) vs Attention Deficit Disorder (formal)
  • FAQs (informal) vs Frequently asked questions (formal)
  • vs. (informal) - versus (formal)

Colloquial language and slang

Colloquial language and slang are also only used in informal language and do not fit into the context of formal language.

Let's take a look at these example sentences - an informal language sentence that uses colloquialisms and its formal equivalent:

Informal language: I just wanna say thanks.

Formal language: I would like to thank you.

Consider these two sentences - the informal language sentence includes a slang word whereas the formal one doesn't:

Informal language: You got a new dress? That's ace!

Formal language: You have a new dress? That's wonderful!

Formal language - key takeaways

  • Formal language is a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we don't know, or someone we respect and on whom we would like to make a good impression.
  • Formal language is used on official forms of communications, such as academic writing and work-related correspondence.

  • The role of formal language is to convey and receive knowledge and expertise as well as to give a sense of occasion.

  • Formal language is different from informal language.

  • Formal language uses complex grammar, vocabulary and modal verbs. It also uses often the pronoun '' we '' instead of the pronoun '' I ''. Informal language uses simple grammar and vocabulary, phrasal verbs, contractions, abbreviations, acronyms, initialisms, colloquial language and slang.

Frequently Asked Questions about Formal Language

Formal language is language used for official forms of communication, when addressing someone we don't know, or someone we respect and on whom we would like to make a good impression.

The role of formal language is to serve the purpose of official correspondence. Formal language is important because it is used to convey and receive knowledge and expertise as well as to give a sense of occasion. 

'I would like to thank you' is an example of a formal sentence. 

Formal language uses specific grammar and vocabulary, such as modal verbs, that informal language doesn’t use. Informal language uses more phrasal verbs, contractions, abbreviations, acronyms, initialisms, colloquial language and slang. These are used in formal language, but more less often.


Final Formal Language Quiz

Question

Is this sentence formal or informal?

Your cat is so cute!


Show answer

Answer

Informal.

Show question

Question

Is this word formal or informal?

Require

Show answer

Answer

Formally

Show question

Question

What is the formal equivalent of the word `` explain ''?


Show answer

Answer

 Disclose

Show question

Question

Is this sentence formal or informal?

We regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful.


Show answer

Answer

 Formally.

Show question

Question

What is the informal equivalent of the word '' however ''?


Show answer

Answer

But

Show question

Question

You need to send an application for an internship. Which language style would you use - formal or informal?

Show answer

Answer

Formally.

Show question

Question

Is this email formal or informal?


Dear Sir or Madam,

I would like to express my interest in the position of Editor for your online magazine.

Please find my CV, references and personal statement attached.

Thank you.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours faithfully,

Mary Upton


Show answer

Answer

 Formally

Show question

Question

You are about to wish your sibling a happy birthday. Which language style would you use - formal or informal?


Show answer

Answer

Informal

Show question

Question

True or False: Formal language is appropriate for an MP's public speech.


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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Is this sentence formal or informal?

Take a look at this photo - what'd you think?


Show answer

Answer

Informal


Show question

Question

True or False: Informal language is appropriate for chatting to your classmate about your homework.


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

You are sending an email to a friend and attaching some photos the two of you took together on a school trip. Which language style would you use - formal or informal?


Show answer

Answer

Informal

Show question

Question

What is the informal equivalent of the word '' agreeable ''?


Show answer

Answer

 Good

Show question

Question

Which of these is NOT an informal sentence?

Show answer

Answer

 Would you be so kind as to elaborate? 

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Question

Which of these is informal?


Show answer

Answer

 Fall out

Show question

Question

True or False: Formal language is usually used in academic texts.

Show answer

Answer

True,

Show question

Question

True or False: The role of formal language is to serve the purpose of casual conversation.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

When can you use formal language?

Show answer

Answer

 At a job interview

Show question

Question

True or False: Modal verbs are commonly used in formal language.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or False: Abbreviations, such as ASAP, are formal.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

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