by Alysia Bartley

2 Ways To Talk (Casual and Formal)… in the English Language

Child pretending to be a superhero

ca·su·al/ˈkaZHo͞oəl/adj designed for informal use; relaxed and unconcerned

for·mal/ˈfôrməl/adj based on conventional forms and rules; suitable for important situations or occasions
(Google definitions)

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Don’t forget to read part II of ‘2 More Ways to Talk Casual and Formal in English‘ and part III ‘Casual Conversation in ESL – The Inside Scoop Part III

Read Part II on 2 More Ways to Talk Casual and Formal in English

Casual Conversation in ESL – The Inside Scoop Part III

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Introduction

This blog post is about casual and formal language, but the words “casual” and “formal” can also describe other things like clothing, an outing or event, a friendship or relationship, a meeting, etc.

For example, casual dress might be jeans, a tee-shirt, and sandals as opposed to formal attire of a button-down shirt, tie, and pants for a male or a skirt and blouse/dress with closed toe shoes (for a female).  An informal outing or event could be a parade, picnic, hike or bike ride, whereas a formal one would be a wedding in a church/synagogue/mosque, an anniversary party at a 5-star restaurant, or a ballet/opera at a fancy performance center.

A casual friendship or relationship is characterized by someone you have known for a long time, maybe someone from school, the neighborhood or a close relative as opposed to a formal relationship which might be a superior in your business, a member of a prestigious club, or a distant relative or acquaintance.  A casual meeting might be just to offer ideas or to build cohesion or unity.  It may take place in a casual setting, too, like an outdoor café, park or sporting event.  A formal meeting might be to discuss something really important like the direction of the company or the unveiling of a new product, classes you need to complete a major or degree, or a talk with the doctor about an illness.  It may take place in a boardroom, manager’s office, large auditorium, or another formal location.

You probably use different words, phrases, and ways of speaking in your native language when you are with your friends, family, other relatives, and people who are similar to you in age and personality (that’s casual or informal language).  However, you have another set of words and expressions when you are in other situations like at work, when speaking with those people you may not know as well, or when you speak to those in authoritative positions (that’s formal language).  Well, the same is true when you speak English.

You need to know casual English because you want to be able to understand and communicate with English speakers in everyday situations (by osinyemi).  Likewise, you need to know formal English because you want to be able to read a book, give a business presentation, or write an official letter.

Casual (Informal) Language

Casual language is used a lot around those you know well.  It is a carefree way of speaking and one in which those who know you can easily understand or relate to.  There are many slang expressions used in everyday conversations and these phrases change over time.  With the explosion into the technological era leading to more frequent conversations, more and more slang words are added each day to the English language.  It is also appropriate to use casual language when writing blogs, tweets, and advertisements.  You may use casual language when you want to get to know someone on a more personal level or you want the person to feel at ease.

Formal Language

Formal language eloquently combines appropriate grammar and phrases to provide credibility for what is being said.  For example, more formal language is routinely used in a professional setting (on a business trip or at a meeting), at certain places in a city (a church/synagogue/mosque, bank, library, high-end department store, government building), and in specific situations (job interview, dinner party, prestigious ceremony, or when speaking respectfully to a superior).  You also use formal language in academic papers and official documents and speeches, books, news reports, articles and business letters.  You may tend to use more formal language if you want to stress a point or convey authority or when you need to be strict.

Suggested Tips – When to Say What?

In doubt of which words to use? Here are some tips that can help you.  If you listen and observe others in conversation, you will be able to tell what type of communication matches the situation. Or you can see how a person speaks to you; if he/she chooses to use more casual English, then it is appropriate for you to do so in return.  You can also think of patterns.  If you have spoken a certain way before under similar conditions or heard someone else speak in this situation, then it is most likely that you can talk this way here, too.

Casual or Formal Settings – What to Say When?

Just as casual English would be inappropriate in more formal settings, formal English would sound out of place to your friends or acquaintances that your friends introduce you to.  For example, take a simple greeting. In a more formal greeting it is appropriate for you to say, “How do you do?” and “Nice to meet you” and to address the people you are meeting with the correct title of Mr./Mrs./Ms., Dr., Rev., etc.  With those you know well, you probably say “Hi”, “Hey, What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”

When you are eating, it is important to remember your manners, especially during a business luncheon or meeting. You should politely ask for items to be passed to you like, “Could you please pass the coffee?”  If you are eating with friends, you can be more relaxed with your manners and eating habits. “Hey, pass the coffee.”  But, you would never say, “I’m starving” or, “I got a bad case of the munchies” in a formal situation, but with friends these are common phrases when you are hungry.  You also would never say, “I don’t like (the food item’s) taste” in a formal setting, but with your friends it is acceptable to tell the awful truth about how bad the food tastes.

Let’s pretend you are in a dinner party and you need to leave for an urgent phone call.  If you were eating with your future mother-in-law, you might say, “Would you please  excuse me for a moment?” or “Excuse me”.   However, with friends, you might say, “One sec” or “I’ll be back.” So, you leave the table and answer your phone call; if it’s your customer or boss, you could begin with, “Good Evening, how are you doing tonight?” But if it were your close friend you might say, “What’s good with you, my brother from another mother!”

Using Casual and Formal English

Maybe you have heard some of these more popular US casual English words/phrases:

Casual – Formal

Cuz – Because

Chill/chillin’- Relax/relaxing

Gonna – Going to

Sick – Great; amazing

Lame – Not good; worthless

Shoot me an email – Send me an email

Kickback – Move slowly; rest; relax

Fam – Family

Hold on – Wait

Gotta – Have to/need to

I’m outta here – I need to leave now

Guy/guys – You all; all of you; you

Besties – Best friends

Sucks – Terrible or awful

Bring it on – I’m ready for it

My bad – (Admitting guilt over something)

Yea/Yeah – Yes

Nah/Naw – No

I dunno – I don’t know

Whatever – I really don’t know/You can decide/I don’t have a preference

These casual words are widely used with people you know and are more comfortable being with.  However, in formal situations, the words should be avoided and the more formal word/phrase substituted.

How to Practice Casual Language

Now, let’s see where you can practice casual language.  You can…

  • ride on a bus, train or airplane and greet the driver/pilot and speak to those sitting near you
  • talk to your fellow students in a class or to your co-workers at work
  • listen to television shows/movies/musical lyrics and write down certain words/phrases and when/how they are used to insert in your daily speech
  • converse with people when you run errands at the bank, store and post office or in and around your neighborhood
  • engage in chat rooms not associated with your classes or job
  • practice on the telephone with your friends or exchange emails, text messages and letters
  • read blogs to see the word choice from many different writers
  • check out the Learn English Online Blog here at TalktoCanada
  • observe others in casual settings (children at a park, families at a restaurant, a group of friends out)

Importance of Casual Language

  • gives audience a sense of closeness and genuineness
  • shows your personality
  • makes others feel comfortable
  • saves time

How to Practice Formal Language

Now, let’s look at formal English. You can…

  • listen to the news or government debates
  • read academic papers, essays, discussion responses, journals or other nonfiction texts on topics of interest
  • review updated magazines and newspapers dealing with current events
  • scan professional writings
  • role play formal situations and what you would say
  • practice speaking with someone else in a dialogue situation reflective of a formal situation or with a person of authority
  • watch some videos on how to interview or how to conduct a meeting
  • attend a city council meeting or open court hearing

Importance of Formal English

  • shows you are professional in verbal and written responses
  • supports the seriousness or importance of the situation
  • meets requirements in academic and work settings
  • clearly defines for the reader
  • email messages to instructors, other faculty and staff members; email company employees and management
  • apply for internships, grants, volunteer work, and jobs
  • observe others in formal situations (business meetings or luncheons, talking to people in authority or at a more structured time and place)

Other Differences

  • Casual English is used in situations where speech is improvised and not prepared ahead of time or when the writer is writing quickly without editing (e.g., Internet chat rooms or personal emails).
  • Formal English is characterized by longer, more complicated sentences, whereas casual English has simpler, shorter words and sentences.
  • Formal English follows the standards of English grammar; casual English may not adhere as closely to these rules.
  • Formal English relies on choice and accuracy of words; casual English may use what is called “delaying expressions” like Well, I think it is a good idea, you know? and other expressions for “correctness” like Mr. Smith is not well.  I mean, not that he is sick, just that he is very tired or “qualifying expressions” such as Your cake recipe is kind of like my mom’s recipe.
  • Formal English does not use the “everyday phrases” you would use when talking to a good friend.  Examples include Here you go (when giving something to someone); Come again (asking someone to repeat something); What do you mean? (wondering what was said and needing a further explanation).
  • Formal English uses some vocabulary that you would not say in more casual situations.  Words like anew, daunting, nevertheless, disclose, constitute, as it happens, etc. Similarly there is vocabulary used only in casual situations (in addition to the words listed earlier in this article) like dude (a person); freaking out (getting scared; wondering what was happening); uh-huh (yes); nope (no); puke (throw up); john (bathroom); stuff (things); to tick someone off (to upset someone), like crazy (a lot or excessively; usually with a verb).  In addition, casual language uses words/phrases that are shortened like I’m doin’ it my way (doing); Lemme go! (let me go); Whatcha gonna do? (What are you going to do?); Whassup? (What’s up?); I kinda wanna go to the movies (kind of want to).

Your Turn to Practice Informal – Formal English

  • Greetings

Informal: Hi, How are ya?, How’s it going?, How ya doin’? Formal: Hello, Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, Nice to meet you, (title)

Informal (response): Not much, Not bad, How’s everything with you?, Can’t complain, How ‘bout you? Formal (response): How are you doing?, I hope everything is fine with you.

  • Making Suggestions/Giving Advice

Informal: You know what ya need to do? You gotta… Formal: Would you please allow me to make a suggestion?  I think it might be best to…

  • To Show Approval or Excitement

Informal: Cool!  Sweet! Awesome! Oh, my god that’s great! Formal: That is wonderful news! That is terrific to hear!  That really is quite impressive.

  • To Say Good-bye

Informal: Bye!, See ya!, Catch ya’ later!, See you, guys!, I’m outta here!, Later y’all!, Take care now! Formal: Good-bye, Mr./Mrs./Dr./Rev. (last name and add something to show respect, appreciation or importance to the situation) like Good-bye, Dr. Taleon.  Thank you for taking the time to talk with my mother and for being so helpful to us.

  • To Say Good Night

Informal: G’night!, Sleep tight! Formal: Good night, Mr./Mrs./Dr./Rev. (last name)

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Don’t forget to read part II of ‘2 More Ways to Talk Casual and Formal in English‘ and part III ‘Casual Conversation in ESL – The Inside Scoop Part III

Read Part II on 2 More Ways to Talk Casual and Formal in English

Casual Conversation in ESL – The Inside Scoop Part III

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Concluding Remarks

The English language is no different from other languages in that the choice of words matches the person and situation you are in.  There are times that casual English is the better choice and there are other times when formal language should be used. As you become more familiar with the English language and the English-speaking culture, you will more clearly understand the differences of casual and formal words/phrases. With daily practice and revision, your communications (whether casual or formal) will become as natural as it is in your first language and your confidence will open exciting new opportunities for you.

Please write to me using the comment box below and let me know of any interesting casual/formal expressions that you have in your native language.  Or share an example of a casual or formal English phrase and when you have used it.  I would be most grateful to hear from you (formal)…Hey! That would really be cool to hear from you, ya’ know? (casual).  Thank you, very much for your time (formal).  Respects! (casual).

Fantastic picture of playing child

About the author:

Alysia is a co-founder of TalktoCanada. Since founding the online English teaching company in 2006, she has gone on to teach over 10,000 hours of online classes and managed large and small English training projects around the world. During her free time you can find her listening to the latest business book, travelling and going to the gym.