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Main Differences between Formal and Informal English

 
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EnglishLCI



Joined: 20 Aug 2009
Posts: 49
Location: Denver, Colorado

PostPosted: Fri May 21, 2010 12:31 pm    Post subject: Main Differences between Formal and Informal English Reply with quote

One of the greatest fears affecting non native speakers of English is not just being misunderstood but also being inappropriate when trying to express something. People often speak of language as being correct or incorrect. It would be more accurate to refer to particular language structures as being formal or informal, appropriate or inappropriate for a specific context.

In everyday conversation we do not have to follow the rules of grammar as carefully as we would in a formal address or a business letter. If we adhere too closely to formal rules of grammar in an informal situation, we may come across as being stuffy and unnatural. It is like wearing a tuxedo or a formal gown to an ordinary business meeting. Formal English follows rules of grammar very strictly. Sentences tend to be longer and more complex. It tends to be used in professional and business situations. It is also better organized and thought out.

Informal English on the other hand is generally used with friends and family. A number of grammar expressions have common forms which differ in their formal or informal use. These differences are noted both in written and spoken English. However, they are most notable in written English.

As seen in ESL lessons, participating effectively not only requires a solid grasp of English grammar, but also an understanding of key communication factors. If you want more helpful language hints as to the most appropriate forms of English or key points to take into consideration each time you are using English, read on.

Contracted Forms
Formal - Don't use contracted forms, use the entire auxiliary verb: They have lived in New York for many years.
Informal - Use contracted forms: They've lived in New York for many years.

Relative Structures
Formal - Use relative structures: The woman thought that it was important to be on time.
Informal - Drop certain relative structures: The woman thought it was important to be on time.

The Use of 'Whom'
Formal - Use 'whom' as an object: Whom have they chosen for the position?
Informal - Use 'who' as an object: Who have they chosen for the position?

Auxiliary Verb Usage
Formal - Always use the full form of an auxiliary: Have you finished your work?
Informal - Sometimes the auxiliary verb is dropped in informal speech. Note: This is often grammatically incorrect, but is certainly common in everyday usage: Finished your work?

Word Choice
Formal - Many words tend to be used in more formal situations. For example, certain verbs tend to be used in formal situations, but have other synonyms (often phrasal verbs) that are used in informal situations. Also, it uses more vocabulary derived from French and Latin (bigger words) It uses more synonyms and doesn't repeat the same words as much. The police investigated the situation.
Informal synonym: We looked into the situation.

Passive structures
Formal - It uses more indirect language, making it less personal. The student was given a book.
Informal synonym: We gave the student a book.

Rachel Clarkson
Rachel Clarkson is an English teacher at LCI English ESL Programs and blogger at the ESL Blog.
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LCI offers the best ESL classes through experienced teachers and high quality programs in Denver, Colorado. Check out great ESL resources and articles at www.englishlci.com/blog
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