Formal English Overview, definition and features
What is Formal English? The best way to think about formal (and informal) English is in comparison to how we dress: If you hang out with friends, you would expect to dress informally. If attending an interview, you would expect to dress smartly. You can think about language in the same terms.
The situation is what counts In situations requiring it (interviews, talking to judges, meeting a girlfriend’s family for the first time) you are expected to ‘dress up your language’ or to ‘speak more formally.’ The situation is very important in deciding how we speak, and if you do not dress up your language suitablyit will create the illusion of either ignorance or laziness.
Features of formal English Formal English is generally calm and precise.
Features of formal English We use very formal verbs, adjectives and nouns in formal English where possible. e.g. I visited the toilet. Not I went for a pee!
Features of formal English Formal verbs, adjectives and nouns can create tension and drama in language, for example in nature documentaries.
Features of formal English Formal English is generally clearer and slower than informal English (especially when spoken). Ways in which it can be clearer: • No slang • It follows grammatical rules • Only complete sentences will be used
Features of formal English Formal English is usually active and not passive. Active- The young child kicked the ball Passive- The ball was kicked by the young child
Levels of formality Language does not always fit into one box of formality. It may be best to think in terms of a scale to help us understand when to use the correct form of the language: Very formal Quite formal Neutral Quite informal Very informal
Levels of formality Where would you put the following situations on the formality chart? • Speaking in court • Meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time in a pub • Talking to a police officer • Speaking to a friend at the mall • Talking to a classmate who is not a close friend • Talking to your teacher at university about your work