Informal and Formal English: What’s the Difference?

There are many differences between formal and informal English...


Formal language is less personal than informal language. It is used when writing for professional or academic purposes like university assignments. Formal language does not use colloquialisms, contractions or first person pronouns such as “I” or “We”.

Informal language is more casual and spontaneous. It is used when communicating with friends or family either in writing or in conversation. It is used when writing personal emails, text messages and in some business correspondence. The tone of informal language is more personal than formal language.

Examples of formal and informal language are shown below:

1. Informal vs Formal English Verbs

  • Ask - Enquire

Informal: The interviewer asked me about my future plans.

Formal: The interviewer enquired me about my future plans.

  • Ask for - Request

Informal: You can ask for a free copy of the leaflet.

Formal: You can request a free copy of the leaflet.

  • Book - Reserve

Informal: I'd like to book a table for three for eight o'clock.

Formal: I'd like to reserve a table for three for eight o'clock.

  • Check - Verify

Informal: I'll leave you to check whether these claims are true.

Formal: I'll leave you to verify whether these claims are true.

  • Get - Receive

Informal: We got a warm welcome from our hosts.

Formal: We received a warm welcome from our hosts.

  • Give - Provide

Informal: The hospital has a commitment to give the best possible medical care.

Formal: The hospital has a commitment to provide the best possible medical care.

  • Help - Assist

Informal: We are looking for people who would be willing to help in the group's work.

Formal: We are looking for people who would be willing to assist in the group's work.

  • Need - Request

Informal: She need permission to film at the White House

Formal: She requests permission to film at the White House

  • Say sorry - Apologise

Informal: Go and say sorry to her.

Formal: Go and apologize to her.

  • Say hello to - Give my regards to

Informal: Well, say hello to your wife and children.

Formal: Well, give my regards to your wife and children.

  • Tell - Inform

Informal: The leaflet tells customers about healthy eating.

Formal: The leaflet informs customers about healthy eating.

  • Choose - Select

Informal: He hasn't been chosen for the team.

Formal: He hasn't been selected for the team.

  • Begin/Start - Commence

Informal: Once that is completed, the major construction work will begin.

Formal: Once that is completed, the major construction work will commence.

  • Let - Allow

Informal: She didn't let me to live with my kids.

Formal: She didn't allow me to live with my kids.

  • Promise - Assure

Informal: "I can promise you of that", he said.

Formal: "I can assure you of that",  he said.


2. Phrasal Verbs and Their One-Word Substitutions

In informal English we use more common words and phrasal verbs.

  • Get out - Escape

Informal: The door locked accidentally, and I couldn't get out of the room.

Formal: The door locked accidentally, and I couldn't escape the room.

  • Get by - Survive

Informal: It's too soon to say if he'll get by.

Formal: It's too soon to say if he'll survive.

  • Get up - Rise

Informal: Would you all get up, please, to welcome our visiting speaker

Formal: Would you all rise, please, to welcome our visiting speaker

  • Get away - Elude

Informal: The two men managed to get away from the police for six weeks.

Formal: The two men managed to elude the police for six weeks.

  • Get well - Recover

Informal: He's still getting well from his operation

Formal: He's still recovering from his operation

  • Get going - Begin

Informal: Come on, you guys, let's get going!

Formal: Come on, you guys, let's begin!

  • Check up - Investigate

Informal: He checked up on his accountant.

Formal: He investigated his accountant.

  • Put up with - Tolerate

Informal: They put up with their neighbours.

Formal: They tolerated their neighbours.

  • Caught on - Understood

Informal: She caught on very quickly.

Formal: She understood very quickly.

  • Made up for - Compensate

Informal: She made up for it with an early night.

Formal: She compensated for it with an early night.

  • Go down with - Contract

Informal: He went down with a fever.

Formal: He contracted a fever.

  • Go up - Increase/ Rise

Informal: The cost of living went up.

Formal: The cost of living increased/ rose.

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Informal and Formal English: What’s the Difference?

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