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Formal vs. informal
Formell oder informell

What are the differences?

The simplest way to note the differences between formal and informal language in English, both written and spoken, is that the more formal the language is, the longer and more complex the words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs are. For learners, this means that if something is easy to understand it is probably less formal - unless of course very colloquial language or slang is being used, in which case even native speakers may find the language hard to understand! So, for example, see the difference between the following three texts (in ascending level of formality):

  • Fancy a jar Friday?
  • Would you like to meet on Friday after work for a drink?
  • XYZ Company cordially invites you to our wine tasting event on Friday ...

New technology

As we have noted many times, the advances of modern technology have changed the way we do so many things, and communicating is just one of them. Around the world, e-mails have generally overtaken letters and faxes as the main means of written communication for most business people, and reading and writing them on a smartphone has become fairly ubiquitous. The language we use has therefore adapted to take account of this. Use of a smartphone has meant using a virtual keyboard, which is in many ways not as convenient as a 'real' keyboard and so has naturally restricted the length of text most people wish to type onto their screens. This has meant that abbreviations and short forms, only very rarely used in business contexts years ago, are more common today and are seen as acceptable in many situations. Many business people make use of dictation or speech recognition software, which can speed things up, but remember to read over any text before pressing 'send' as your app or software may make some interesting word choices and, in order to avoid causing confusion or even offence, you may need to amend some of these choices!

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