Hi, Sian here for BBC Learning English. In
this Masterclass we're going to look at some
differences between formal and informal English.
Hey, how's it going? Good afternoon, how are you?
Sometimes formal and informal can seem
like two different languages. In the same
way you wouldn't normally wear shorts and
a t-shirt to a job interview, if you use language
that's too formal or too informal, you can
give a bad impression. Let's look at some
Now, I received an email this morning. Have
a look at this email - do you think the language
is formal or informal - and why?
Dear Mrs Brown,
I'm writing to find out whether you have any
jobs in your company this summer.
At the mo I'm studying Economics at uni.
I have been working part-time in a shop and
recently they promoted me to the role of manager.
I am enthusiastic. I work hard. I pay attention
Ok, so that email used informal language and
it's too informal for this style of letter.
We're going to look at four features that
make this informal and we're going to change
it to make it more formal.
Number one: choice of vocabulary. In informal
English we use more common words and more
phrasal verbs. For example here we have a
phrasal verb: find out. It would be better
to use a more formal equivalent like enquire.
Same with jobs, this is quite informal, so
instead let's use vacancies here. Instead
we have "I'm writing to enquire whether you
have any vacancies."
Number two. It's more common in informal language
to use abbreviations, contractions, shortened
forms of verbs. Let's have a look. So, here
we have at the mo, which is short for at the
moment. This is OK when you're speaking, but
not when you're writing. Here, we could use
currently which is even more formal. Same
here, uni is short for university, so don't
use this short form in a letter. "Currently,
I am studying Economics at university."
Quite often in formal language we choose passive
structures over active. Let's have a look
here. The active sentences they promoted me
is quite informal - it'd be much better to
use a passive form here to make it more formal:
I was promoted. So, "Recently I was promoted
to the role of manager." This doesn't mean
don't use active structures in a formal letter,
but have a think about whether a passive one
is more appropriate.
Finally, in informal English, short, simple
sentences are much more common. Whereas in
formal English, we use more complex
structures. Take a look at this one. Here
we have three short, simple sentences and
this is fine in informal English, but in formal
English it's better to use a complex structure.
We can do this by adding relative pronouns
or linkers. For example, "I am an enthusiastic
person who works hard and pays attention to detail.
So, would you kindly visit our website...
ah, we're friends, that's too formal. Go to
our website bbclearningenglish.com for more
information about this and to practise formal
and informal English. See you soon - goodbye!