How to Use Formal and Informal English – English Speaking and Writing Fluency


Greetings! My name is Gina Mares, and I would like to
take this opportunity to welcome you to this Oxford Online English video lesson. Hello! My name’s Gina. Welcome to the class. Hey guys! Gina here. Let’s get started! What’s going on here? Why am I welcoming you three times? In this lesson, you can learn about formal
and informal English. You’ll learn how to recognise and use formal
and informal styles in your spoken and written English. Look at three sentences: Could I disturb you for a minute? Can I ask you something? You got a sec? All of these sentences have the same basic
meaning—I want to talk to you and ask you about something. However, the tone is different. Can you see how? These three sentences show three levels of
formality. The first sentence is formal; it shows politeness,
respect and distance. The second sentence is neutral; it does not
have a formal or an informal tone. The third sentence is informal; it shows that
you and the person you are speaking to are familiar with each other, and you don’t need
to make an effort to be polite or respectful. Actually, there are more than three levels
of formality. For example: Might I ask you something? May I take a moment of your time? Could I disturb you for a minute? These sentences are all formal. The first is extremely formal. It’s probably too formal to use in most
situations. The other two are both formal; the second
is probably more formal than the third. Why ‘probably’? Formality isn’t absolute. It also depends on context and intonation,
so it’s not just about the words you use. So, there are many levels of formality. However, when you speak or write in English,
it’s useful to think about three levels: formal, neutral and informal. But when should you use these different levels
of language? In my experience, many English students use
language which is too formal. They think: formal language is more polite. Polite language is better. Right? No, not always! Language which is too polite puts distance
between you and the person you’re talking to. At best, this will sound awkward and unnatural. At worst, you can sound cold and unfriendly
if you use language which is too formal. Knowing when to use formal language depends
mostly on context. Let me ask you a question: when should you
use formal language? Maybe you said things like: in job interviews,
in business meetings or negotiations, when talking to older people, when writing business
emails, and so on. The fact is, it’s not possible to say you
should always use formal language in these situations. It always depends. For example, take job interviews. Some companies have a very corporate culture,
with a strict hierarchy and lots of rules and procedures. Other companies are more relaxed, and pay
less attention to rules and job titles. Obviously, if you’re going for a job interview
at the first kind of company, you’ll want to dress, act and speak formally, to fit in
with the company culture. On the other hand, if you go for an interview
at the second kind of company, where things are more relaxed, it wouldn’t be appropriate
to speak very formally. So, always think about the actual situation
in front of you. If you’re not sure, try to listen to other
people around you. If people around you are speaking informally
to each other, you probably shouldn’t try to sound very formal. Also, if you don’t know, then use neutral
language. Neutral language is safe. You can use it in any situation. Informal language is very important in spoken
English, but you need to be careful. Using informal language at the wrong time
could sound disrespectful or rude. Next, let’s consider some of the main differences
between formal, neutral and informal English. Formal English tends to use longer, more complicated
sentence structures. Informal and neutral English tend to use shorter,
simpler sentence structures. For example: I was wondering if you could make yourself
available on Wednesday to provide more detailed guidance on these matters. –>This is a formal sentence. You can see that it’s quite long, with a
complex structure. Do you have time on Wednesday to help us with
these problems? –>This is neutral. You got some free time on Wednesday to talk
about this? –>This is more informal. You can see that the neutral and informal
sentences are much shorter and simpler. Let’s do one more example. I’ll give you three sentences. Can you see which one is formal, which is
neutral, and which is informal? We should have a word with him first. It may well be necessary to contact him before
we make a decision. We need to talk to him before we decide. Which is which? The first sentence is informal. The second sentence is formal. The third sentence is neutral. Did you get it right? Again, you can see that the formal sentence
is longer and more complex. Another point is that we sometimes leave out
words in informal English, especially in questions. For example, in the question Are you sure?
it is possible to leave out the word are and just say You sure? In fact, you could even leave out the word
you and just ask a question with one word: sure? Let’s see some more examples of this: Will you be joining us? (Formal—full form)
Are you coming? (neutral—full form)
You coming? (Informal—short form) Do you have any suggestions? (Formal—full form)
Have you got any ideas? (neutral—full form)
Any ideas? (Informal—short form) Do you notice any other differences between
the formal, neutral and informal sentences you’ve seen in this section? You might notice that we use different words
in formal, neutral and informal English. Vocabulary is another important difference
between formal and informal language. Let’s look! Formal English tends to use more literary,
rare or old-fashioned vocabulary. Generally, if you want to be formal, you need
to be very precise with your use of vocabulary. Neutral English tends to use simpler, more
common words. Informal English, like neutral English, uses
simple and common vocabulary. However, informal English also includes slang,
phrasal verbs and colloquial language which are not features of neutral English. Informal English is also generally looser. It uses more general words, and the meaning
is understood from the context. Let’s look at this in some more detail: We need to verify the data before we proceed. We need to check the data before we continue. We need to check everything before we carry
on. You can see that the formal sentence uses
more literary vocabulary: verify instead of check, and proceed instead of continue. The neutral sentence uses simple, common words. The informal sentence is less precise: instead
of saying the data, we say everything. It also uses a phrasal verb: carry on instead
of proceed or continue. In informal English, it’s common to use vocabulary
in a less precise way. For example, you might use words like stuff
or things to refer to specific things. You wouldn’t do this if you were speaking
formally. For example: You are required to collect your belongings
and vacate the premises. You need to take your personal possessions
and leave the building. You need to get your stuff together and get
out. Again, you can see more literary vocabulary
in the formal sentence (required, collect, belongings, vacate, premises). On the other hand, the informal sentence uses
more basic vocabulary, including multi-part verbs like get…together or get out. The informal sentence is also much less precise. It simply refers to stuff, instead of belongings
or possessions. It also says …get out, without specifying
the place (the premises or the building). The neutral sentence is somewhere in between. In neutral language, you generally choose
the simplest word you can. So, you would say take instead of collect,
leave instead of vacate, and so on. You can also see that the informal sentence
is much more direct than the other two. This is an important part of formality in
English. Formal language tends to be much more indirect. Formal language often sounds quite impersonal,
because it uses fewer personal pronouns like I, you, he, she, etc. Informal language tends to be more direct
and personal. Informal language can be so direct that it
can sound aggressive or rude if you use it in the wrong situations. Neutral language is in the middle, similar
to other situations you’ve seen. For example: Lessons need to be learnt from the mistakes
which were made. –>formal
I hope you can learn from where you went wrong. –>neutral
You made a mess of this and you need to do better next time. –>informal You can see that the formal sentence is impersonal. How does it achieve this? First, the formal sentence uses the passive. This makes it possible to avoid using personal
pronouns. The other two sentences include the word you,
but the formal sentence doesn’t. This makes it possible to express the idea
without mentioning or blaming a specific person, which can be useful in certain situations. The neutral sentence is personal, because
it uses you to refer to the listener. However, it’s not very direct, and wouldn’t
generally be considered rude, even in a professional setting. The informal sentence is very direct. If you say this to someone, you’re not hiding
what you think! This can be useful if you need to make yourself
clear, but it could also sound rude or aggressive. It’s not appropriate in all situations. Let’s do one more example. Look at three sentences. Can you tell which is formal, which is neutral,
and which is informal? We won’t be able to do anything until we
deal with these issues. We won’t be able to get anywhere until you
sort this out. It may be difficult to make progress until
these matters are resolved. Can you tell which is which? The first sentence is neutral, the second
is informal, and the third sentence is formal. You can see that the formal sentence uses
an impersonal structure (with it), rather than a personal pronoun (we or you). Again, this is useful if you want to be respectful
and indirect, because it isn’t clearly directed at one person. The neutral sentence is more personal. Can you see the important difference between
the neutral and informal sentences? The neutral sentence uses we in both parts,
while the informal sentence is more direct: …until you sort this out. The points you’ve seen so far in this lesson
are true for both spoken and written English. However, there are some features of formality
which apply only to written English. Let’s take a look. In writing, informal language uses contractions
like he’ll, it’d, or we’re. In informal written English, you can also
use abbreviations, like btw for by the way, ttyl for talk to you later, etc. In formal writing, you generally wouldn’t
use contractions or abbreviations. In neutral writing, you can use contractions
and some abbreviations. However, some abbreviations, like plz for
please, are informal and shouldn’t be used if you want to sound neutral. There are also some abbreviations which are
possible in formal English. For example, HR for Human Resources would
be okay in formal language. If you want to write something in formal English,
and you aren’t sure whether an abbreviation is appropriate or not, then it’s best to write
the full form. Let’s see some examples: Just for your information, we would like to
schedule another meeting in October. (Formal—there are no contractions or abbreviations) Just for your information, we’d like to
arrange another meeting in October. (neutral—uses contractions, but no informal
abbreviations). Just FYI, we’d like to fix up a meeting in
Oct. (Informal—with contractions and abbreviations) Written language is often held to a higher
standard than spoken language, so it’s important to get the tone right. In particular, don’t use language which
is too informal. If you’re not sure, aim for a neutral tone. Let’s look at one more example: Thank you for all the hard work you have done. (Formal—there are no contractions or abbreviations) Thank you for the hard work you’ve done. (Neutral—uses contractions, but no informal
abbreviations). Thx for everything you’ve done. (Informal—with contractions and abbreviations) Hopefully, now you have a good understanding
of formality in English, and how to use formal, neutral and informal English. Don’t forget to check out our website for
more free English lessons: Oxford Online English dot com. Thanks for watching. See you next time!

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