Differences between formal and informal language

According to Cambridge Dictionary website:

“We use formal language in situations that are serious or that involve people we don’t know well. Informal language is more commonly used in situations that are more relaxed and involve people we know well.

Formal language is more common when we write; informal language is more common when we speak. However, there are times where writing can be very informal, for example, when writing postcards or letters to friends, emails or text messages. There are also examples where spoken English can be very formal, for example, in a speech or a lecture. Most uses of English are neutral; that is, they are neither formal nor informal.

Formal language and informal language are associated with particular choices of grammar and vocabulary.

Contractions, relative clauses without a relative pronoun and ellipsis are more common in informal language.”

Examples:

                                           
       

She has decided to accept the job.

     
       

formal

     
       

She’s decided to accept the job.

     
       

informal: She’s = contraction

     
                                           
       

The girl whom I met in Singapore was interested in working in Australia.

     
       

formal

     
       

The girl I met in Singapore was interested in working in Australia.

     
       

informal: relative clause without the relative pronoun whom

     
                                           
       

The girl whom I met in Singapore was interested in working in Australia.

     
       

formal

     
       

The girl I met in Singapore was interested in working in Australia.

     
       

informal: relative clause without the relative pronoun whom

     
                                                                                       
       

formal

     
       

informal

     
       

commence

     
       

start

     
       

terminate

     
       

end

     
       

endeavour

     
       

try

     

According to Oxford Dictionaries website:

Formal language

You tend to find formal language in academic journals or official documents and notices where it brings an extra degree of seriousness to the subject. As a general rule, it isn't appropriate for everyday situations.

Here are some examples of formal words with their equivalents in standard English - notice that the formal words are often longer than the standard terms.

                                                                                                                                                                   
       

Standard English

     
       

 Formal

     
       

think

     
       

cogitate

     
       

buy

     
       

purchase

     
       

food

     
       

comestibles

     
       

poor

     
       

penurious

     
       

hate

     
       

abominate

     
       

fee, salary

     
       

emoluments

     
       

a drink

     
       

beverage

     

It can be tempting to use formal vocabulary in the hope that it will add more weight to what you are saying, or just sound generally more impressive or sophisticated. You should generally try to resist this temptation. Using formal English in everyday situations can make your writing sound pompous or pretentious. You may also make what you've written sound unintentionally funny, as some writers deliberately choose formal vocabulary to create a comic effect.

Take a look at these two versions of the same sentence:

✗ Passengers were stranded without comestibles and beverages for hours.

✓ Passengers were stranded without food and drink for hours.

The use of the formal terms comestibles and beverages in the first version is distracting: the words get in the way of what the sentence is actually saying. The standard English terms in the second sentence have much more impact.

Remember that a long word is not necessarily better than a short one - it's just longer!  

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