Formal Vocabulary Is As Fancy As A Tuxedo, While Informal Vocabulary Is As Casual As A Pair Of Jeans
Updated: Feb 17
This article is for individuals who are preparing for the IELTS General Training Task 1 - Letter Writing and are looking to improve their understanding of formal and informal vocabulary, spelling conventions, and consistency in language. The article provides an overview of the importance of adhering to either formal or informal language in order to ensure clear and effective communication. It also highlights the key factors that determine the choice of language, such as the respect given to the people involved in the communication, the particular situation or context, and the degree of formality that is appropriate. The article concludes with a simple guideline to bear in mind - when in doubt, err on the side of formality.
Formal and informal vocabulary
The utilization of both formal and informal lexicon is a prominent feature of language in all contexts. With the increasing acceptance of informal language in formal spaces, the amalgamation of formal and informal language has become increasingly prevalent. Here is a sample collection of literature containing terms in both formal and informal registers.
In essence, "formal" is utilized to describe an attitude or behavior that follows established protocols, practices, and conventions. Generally speaking, a formal letter is structured in an official and stringent manner, conforming to custom and propriety. Put another way, "formal" can be seen as an approximate substitute for “official”.
Not adhering to either formal or informal lexicon can lead to confusion and misinterpretation.
It is important that communication is as clear and unambiguous as possible, and integration of both formal and informal lexicon can hinder that. For example, if a response consisted of both informal and formal language, the information may not be entirely clear or comprehendible.
Additionally, blending the two styles can come across as unprofessional or immature, depending on the context. For example, in a professional setting, using informal language such as slang or colloquial expressions may appear unprofessional and could affect how the individual is perceived. In contrast, using exclusively formal language in an informal setting may appear rather awkward or stiff.
Therefore, it is important to adhere to either formal or informal lexicon in order to ensure clear and effective communication. Additionally, adhering to a single lexical style helps to maintain professionalism and ensures that the message is not lost in translation.
It is important to maintain consistency when utilizing both British and American spelling conventions in order to minimize confusion for readers who may not be familiar with both spelling conventions. Inconsistencies can lead to confusion over the meaning of a word or phrase, which may then cause readers to become frustrated or miss important points.
For example, using the words “programme” and “program” in the same text could cause confusion. A reader who is familiar with both conventions may assume that they have the same meaning, while a reader who is only familiar with one may think they are two separate words. This could lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
It is best to stick with one of the two spelling conventions throughout the entirety of a text. For example, if the text is written for an American audience, it would be best to use American spellings of words such as “color” and “realize”, rather than British spellings such as “colour” and “realise”.
Consistency in terms of formal and informal language is important in IELTS General Training Task 1 - Letter Writing because it helps to establish the tone and level of formality of the letter. Maintaining a consistent tone throughout the letter conveys professionalism and ensures that the intended message is conveyed effectively to the reader.
For example, if you start a letter using formal language and then switch to informal language, it may appear inconsistent and unprofessional. Similarly, if you write a letter to a friend using overly formal language, it may seem unnatural and may not accurately reflect the relationship between the writer and the reader.
Therefore, it's important to consider the context of the letter and the relationship between the writer and the reader when choosing the appropriate tone. If the letter is a formal letter, such as a business letter or a letter to a government official, it's best to use formal language and expressions. If the letter is a personal letter to a close friend or family member, it's acceptable to use informal language and expressions.
In conclusion, maintaining consistency in the tone and level of formality in IELTS General Training Task 1 - Letter Writing helps to ensure that the intended message is conveyed effectively and professionally to the reader.
Slang and contractions
Slang words and contractions are not formal English because they are colloquial terms that are not typically accepted as "standard English" and may not be understood by all. Examples of slang words and contractions include "gonna," "wanna," "y'all," "aint," and "cuz."
It's best to avoid using slang and contractions. The goal of this task is to assess the candidate's ability to write a clear, well-structured, and grammatically correct letter, and the use of slang and contractions can detract from that goal.
Slang expressions are informal and may not be understood by all readers, making them unsuitable for formal letters. Contractions, on the other hand, can make the language appear informal and may not be appropriate in a more formal context.
In the IELTS General Training Task 1 - Letter Writing, it's best to use standard English, with clear and well-constructed sentences. This will demonstrate your ability to write in a clear, concise, and effective manner, and will ensure that the message you are trying to convey is communicated accurately to the reader.
Which register should I use?
The level of formality is often determined by a variety of elements, such as the context of the setting, the individual's cultural norms, and the purpose of the interaction.
Formal and informal language have distinct differences that are determined by the particular situation or context in which they are used. Formal language is generally used to communicate with people in positions of authority and power, while informal language is used to communicate with people in less formal settings. The choice of language is determined by the respect that is given for the people involved in the communication, the particular situation or context, and the degree of formality that is appropriate for the particular situation or context.
Respect for the people involved in the communication
The most important factor in deciding between formal and informal language is the respect that is given for the people or person involved in the communication. When talking to someone in a position of authority or power, it is important to use formal language as a sign of respect. This includes people such as teachers, co-workers, bosses, customers, and clients. Using informal language can be seen as disrespectful in these contexts and can lead to less favourable outcomes.
When communicating with people on an informal level, such as friends, family, and casual acquaintances, informal language is more appropriate. Using formal language in these settings can be seen as pretentious and can make people feel uncomfortable.
The particular situation or context
The particular situation or context in which a person is communicating is another factor in determining whether to use formal or informal language. Formal language is typically used in professional contexts, such as job interviews, presentations, work-related emails, and client meetings. Formal language can also be used in more formal settings, such as dinner parties, religious services, and formal events.
Informal language is typically used in more casual settings, such as casual conversations, text messages, and emails to friends or family. It is also appropriate to use informal language in social settings, such as when talking to friends at a party or chatting with friends at a bar.
The degree of formality
The degree of formality is another factor in deciding between formal and informal language. When communicating in a professional setting, it is important to use formal language, even if the people involved in the communication know each other. Using informal language can be seen as unprofessional and can lead to unfavorable results.
However, in casual settings, it is acceptable to use informal language, as long as the degree of formality remains appropriate. For example, it is appropriate to use informal language when talking with friends, but not when talking with a boss or a customer.
In conclusion, the choice of language is determined by the respect that is given for the people involved in the communication, the particular situation or context, and the degree of formality that is appropriate for the particular situation or context. Formal language is generally used to communicate with people in positions of authority and power, while informal language is used to communicate with people in less formal settings. Knowing when to use formal and informal language is an important skill for succeeding in any professional or personal setting.
It is advisable to err on the side of formal discourse if there is any hesitation surrounding the appropriateness of informal language. Maintaining a respectful and diplomatic demeanour through the use of formal vocabulary will likely be appreciated.
One may garner curious glances if they are overly formal, however, such an occurrence is inconsequential.
Conversely, it may be ill-advised to employ informal language and phrasing in some contexts, as it could be construed as inappropriate or discourteous. In light of this, here is a basic guideline to bear in mind..
When uncertain, err on the side of formality.