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Formal and informal registers

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Formal and informal registers

​​In a nutshell

When writing any type of text, you will use either a formal or informal register. Formal language is used in more serious situations or with people you don't know. Informal language is used in a more relaxed way and with people you know very well. 


Before going into more detail about formal and informal registers, what does the word 'register' mean? Register is the language that the author uses and it is based on the reader. A register can be formal, informal or somewhere in between.

Formal writing

The tone of formal writing is more serious and impersonal. Formal texts engage with the reader from a distance and are more detached. The language is complex and sophisticated and is used with people you don't know or don't know well.

Examples of formal texts
  • ​Essays
  • Textbooks
  • Official letters
  • Newspapers
  • Job applications
  • Contracts
  • School reports
  • Instruction manuals

Features of formal writing

Standard English

Standard English is usually used in formal writing. This means the correct grammar, punctuation and spelling is used. Writers avoid the use of contractions, which are words in a shortened form.

can not
he will
they had/would

Technical language

Formal writing often includes technical terms, which might only be understood by a specific group of people. 


A doctor can say, "I need a nurse in room 5, stat!" The word, "stat" is a medical term for "in a hurry" or "immediately".


In formal writing, more complex and sophisticated vocabulary is normally used. 

Examples of informal versus formal language
I'm sorry. The doctor is coming soon.
Apologies for the inconvenience. The doctor will be with you in a minute.
They'll attend the meeting tomorrow morning.
They will be attending the meeting tomorrow morning. 
Went to Madrid for the weekend. Lots to tell you.
We went to Madrid for the weekend. We have a lot of things to tell you.

Impersonal language

In formal writing, the writers may create an impersonal tone to distance themselves from the subject. This is often done with the passive voice which places the object first in the sentence. The object (the new grammatical subject) then receives the action of the verb.


The results are believed to be valid.


I believe the results are valid.

Longer complex sentences

Formal writing usually has longer and more complex sentences due to the topic of discussion being more serious and complex.

Informal writing

Informal writing has a more casual and personal tone. Informal language is mostly used with people that the author knows well, such as friends and family. The purpose of informal writing is usually to connect with the reader.

Examples of informal texts
  • ​Comic books
  • Articles for children
  • Text messages
  • Postcards
  • Social media posts
  • A letter to a friend
  • Personal emails

Features of informal writing

Chatty language or slang

Simple language is used when writing in informal language. This may include words used in daily life or slang. Slang is vocabulary that is used between people who belong to the same social group or who know each other well.

I got a great gig yesterday.
I got a great job yesterday.

Your Halloween costume is so cool.

Your Halloween costume is superb.
That car is so sick!
That car is so nice!

Personal language

The second person pronoun "you" or first person plural pronoun "we" are mostly used in informal writing. This way the writer is addressing the audience directly.


In an article written for children, you might find a sentence like this:  "Don't you worry! We are here to help you with your Maths!"


You might also see the use of humour in informal texts. This makes the text more light-hearted.


In informal texts, contractions are very often used by writers because they are short and to the point.


"Hey Jack, I hope you're joining us later! It's gonna be a great party."

Short sentences

Informal language is used with people the writer knows or to make a text more friendly and relatable. Short and simple words and/or sentences are usually used in informal texts.

Want to find out more? Check out these other lessons!

Register: Formal and informal writing

Formal and informal registers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


  • Question: What is informal writing?

    Answer: Informal writing uses a more personal tone. Informal language is used when the writer knows the reader very well. The goal is to connect with the reader.

  • Question: What is formal writing?

    Answer: Formal writing has a more serious tone. Formal texts tend to distance themselves from their readers because the writer doesn't know the person that well.



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