Formal, Informal, and
is the level and style of your writing. It should be appropriate for the situation you are in.
Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses
The language register determines the vocabulary, structure, and some grammar in
The three most common language registers in writing are:
language registers for different types of writing, just as we speak
differently to different people. You would not speak to the President
of the United States the same way you would talk to your brothers.
To your brother:
What's up? It's awesome that you came to visit!To the President:
Good morning, Mr. President. We appreciate your visit.
The formal register
is more appropriate for professional writing and letters to a boss or a stranger.
The informal register
(also called casual or intimate) is conversational and appropriate when writing to friends and people you know very well.
The neutral register
is non-emotional and sticks to facts. It is most appropriate for technical writings.
articles such as these, we tend to mix the formal and informal
registers to present the information in an easy to understand and
Let's look closely at the three most common language registers used in the English language.
Formal Language Register
Formal writing is probably the most difficult type of writing. It is
impersonal, meaning it is not written for a specific person and is
written without emotion.
Some kinds of writing are always written in formal English.Formal
Letters of complaint
- Professional emails
There are many rules for writing in formal writing. We will discuss
some of the most common rules here. When in doubt, check the rules in an APA style guide.
Rules of the formal language register:
1. Do not use contractions
are not usually used in formal writing, even though they
are very common in spoken English.
In formal writing, you should spell out contractions.
In formal writing, you should use:
cannot instead of can’t
have not instead of haven’t
will not instead of won’t
could not instead of couldn’t
is not instead of isn’t
These are just a few examples of contractions. See more contractions
by following the contraction link above.
Contractions CAN be used if you are quoting someone’s exact words
in your writing.
“Two-thirds of my eighth grade students can’t read at grade level,” the
Keep in mind that an apostrophe does not always make a contraction.
Apostrophes are also added to nouns to show ownership. These are used
in all language registers, including formal.
2. Spell out numbers less than one hundred
In formal writing, we usually do not use first person or second person
unless it is a quote.
You can purchase a car for under $10,000.
One can purchase a
car for under $10,000.
A car can be purchased for under $10,000.
You will probably see an elephant on an African safari.
may see elephants on an African safari.
Elephants are a common sight
on African safaris.
We decided to invest in the company.
The group decided to
invest in the company.
In formal writing it is better to use an active voice
The bone was eaten by the dog.
The research was completed by the students in 2009.
The dog ate the bone.
The students completed the research in 2009.
In 2009, the students
completed the research.
For example, in a rule above I wrote, “Apostrophes are also added to nouns to show
I wrote this sentence in a passive voice.
To make it active, I could
“Additionally, add an apostrophe to a noun to show ownership.”
“Use apostrophes with nouns to show ownership.”
5. Avoid using slang, idioms, exaggeration (hyperboles) and
is common in informal writing and spoken English. Slang is
particular to a certain region or area.
Examples of slang:
check it out
in a nutshell
A cliché is a phrase that is overused (said too often).
too much of a good thing
moment of truth
Time is money.
Don’t push your luck.
Beauty is only skin deep.
6. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms
If you use an acronym or abbreviation, write it out the first time
When using acronyms
, write the entire name out the first time it
appears, followed by the acronym. From then on, you can use the acronym
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT)
, write the complete word the first time, then use the
Do not use slang abbreviations or symbols that you would use in
friendly emails and texts.
influenza => flu
United States of America => U.S.A or USA
tablespoon => tbsp.
Kansas => KS
LOL (laugh out loud)
- ttyl (talk to you later)
7. Do not start sentences with words like and, so, but, also
Here are some good transition words and phrases to use in formal
As a result of
8. Always write in complete sentences.
9. Write longer, more complex sentences.
Informal Language Register
Informal writing is written in the way we talk to our friends and family.
We use informal writing when we are writing to someone we know very
Some kinds of writing can be written in an informal style.Informal
There are no major rules to informal writing.
With informal writing, you can include things such as:
- Most blogs
- Diaries and journals
Slang and clichés
Symbols and abbreviations
First person, second person, and third person
Paragraphs or no paragraphs
Extra punctuation (Hi Bob!!!!!!!)
Passive and active voice
Neutral Language Register
We use the neutral language register with non-emotional topics and
Neutral writing is not necessarily formal or informal. It is not
usually positive or negative. A neutral register is used to deliver
Some writings are written in a neutral register. This means they are
not specifically formal or informal. Writing in the natural language register
These were the types of Language Register. Now that you know them, it
time to practice! Get
our ESL Books!