When is the appropriate time to speak casually, use jargon and slang, and contractions in communication? Do you find using formal language too stiff and impersonal when talking to your friends? The features of informal text and informal language are useful for getting information across effectively and concisely, but it is also a more relaxed form of communication. Below are some examples of informal language that you can learn to use appropriately in day-to-day communication.
Informal language definition
The definition of informal language is as follows: a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we know or someone we would like to get to know. Informal language is used in conversations with friends, family, classmates and colleagues.
Informal language characteristics
There are several identifying characteristics of informal language. The most recognisable involve using contractions, slang words, a casual tone, and a certain degree of familiarity with the recipient of the communication you are sending.
An example of a message that usses informal language might look like this:
I just got your message. How're you?
I'm good, thanks! I just came back from Paris. It was incredible to visit all these places - the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, not to mention the views of the river Seine! I'll show you pictures when I see you. I also brought you a little something. Speaking of, when are you free next week? Do you wanna go to that cafe in the city center?
There are several indications that the message uses informal language:
- Addressing the person by their first name ('Tom').
- The use of contractions - 'I'm' instead of 'I am', 'I'll' instead of 'I will'.
- The use of shortened phrases - 'wanna' instead of 'want to'.
- The overall casual tone of the message.
Informal language examples
What are some examples of when you should use informal language? Informal language serves the purpose of day-to-day communication, such as text messages and casual conversations.
- Informal language is used on occasions that require spontaneity, such as talking to family, friends, classmates and acquaintances. Informal language is also useful when it comes to socializing and engaging in small talk.
- Additionally, informal language is the preferred language style for any kind of communication that is personal rather than official. Informal language is used to bring people closer and to give a sense of familiarity.
Let's take this situation as an example of informal language. You are talking to a friend who has just told you that their dog is ill. Here is how your response would sound if you were to use either informal or formal language:
|Style of language||Explanation|
|Informal language example||I'm so sorry to hear that! I hope your dog gets well soon! Have you taken him to the vet yet? If you need any help with that or with anything else, just let me know, okay?|
|Formal language example||This is bad news indeed. I was told that in such dire circumstances, a pet must be taken to a veterinary clinic. Would you consider doing this? Should you need assistance, do not hesitate to contact me.|
The informal tone does two things that the formal tone fails to do - it shortens the message and conveys closeness between the people who are communicating.
Consider another situation; someone is sending a text message to a friend:
|Style of language||Explanation|
|Informal language example||Hey Tom, I'm really sorry but I'm running a bit late. I missed my bus. You can wait for me inside if you want. I hope I won't be long!|
|Formal language example|
Please accept my sincere apologies. I must inform you that I would most likely be late for our scheduled meeting due to unforeseen circumstances.
Perhaps you could wait for me inside the café? Hopefully, I will arrive shortly.Regards,Sonia
Again, in this situation, the use of informal over formal language is necessary. An informal message is shorter and goes straight to the point. In communication between friends, spontaneity and closeness can only be conveyed through the use of informal language.
Fig. 1 - Informal language is used in casual settings, e.g. hanging out with friends.
What are the differences between formal and informal 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 some examples of formal and informal language to show how the difference in styles can sometimes alter the meaning of communication.
The grammar that is used in formal language is more complex than in informal language. Additionally, formal language sentences are usually longer than sentences that use informal language.
Let's take a look at this example:
Formal language: We regret to inform you that we are not able to fulfil your order made on October 8th.
Informal language: We're really sorry but we can't get your order to you.
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 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 can be used in informal language, but in a more casual way. The same request would sound different in an informal language sentence:
Can you tell us when you're arriving?
The sentence is still polite but it is not formal.
Informal language uses phrasal verbs, whilst they are used less often 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 sentence. In the formal language sentence, phrasal verbs are less appropriate, so the word that is used instead is 'support'.
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'.
We are pleased to inform you that you are hired.
In informal language, the same message might be expressed like this:
I'm happy to let you know that you're a part of the team now!
The vocabulary used in formal language can differ from the vocabulary used in informal language. Longer, more complex phrases, and specific words, are common in formal language and less common in informal language.
Let's have a look at some synonyms of words that convert examples of formal and informal language:
- 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 are only used in informal language to simplify communication. Contractions are not normally acceptable in formal written English.
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 set of tools used to simplify language. The use of abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms is common in both formal and informal language:
Colloquial language and slang
Colloquial language and slang are also typically used in informal language.
Let's take a look at some examples of colloquialisms in formal and informal language.
Informal language: I just wanna say thx.
Formal language: I would like to thank you.
Informal language: You gotta new dress? That's ace!
Formal language: You have a new dress? That's wonderful!
Consider these two sentences - the informal language sentence includes a slang word whereas the formal one doesn't. The changes not only alter the tone of the conversation, but also offers a new meaning behind the speaker's intention behind the communication.
On the one hand, the first informal language example may seem flippant and say 'thank you' out of obligation, while the use of formal language in 'I would like to' may seem more sincere. On the other hand, the second informal language example may seem to be genuinely excited about the new dress.
Of course, this relies on how the recipient of the communication perceives the style of language chosen by the speaker.
Informal Language - Key takeaways
- Informal language is a style of speech and writing used when addressing someone we know or someone we would like to get to know.
- Informal language is used in friendly settings, or in casual conversations with people we know well.
- The role of informal language is to serve the purpose of day-to-day communication, such as text messages and casual conversations.
- 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.