Conversational vs Formal English

So, English is not just one of the most common languages in the world, it's the largest language in the world for both native and non-native speakers according to Berlitz.

Worthy of note is the fact that there are different styles of English, we've conversational English, Formal English among other types. 

In every language, different ways of speaking and writing apply to specific situations so also in English, certain vocabulary and grammar rules apply especially when it comes to using both Conversational and Formal English.

Figuring out when to use formal English and Conversational English is central to mastering the English language.

Essentially, Conversational English is the language you use in everyday situations or a more relaxed setting; this is often what you use to communicate with your family and friends or the people you are familiar with.

Now, conversational English is straightforward, especially because it's a great way of connecting with people in a friendly way. Imagine you are trying to start a conversation with someone for the first time; using conversational English will portray you as a friendly person compared to using formal English. In essence, conversational English has its place. If you are looking to get started with using conversational English, there are tons of resources online to help you learn that.

Whilst conversational English sentences often don't follow grammar rules or vocabulary, it's replete with different ways of speaking, words and phrases you only use with people that are close to you and those you trust, says PhraseMix.

Other features of conversational English include;


  • Slangs, such as the GOAT, Lit, Bye Felicia.

  • Contractions such as aren't, this isn't it, how're you doing?

  • Abbreviations, examples include BRB, NP, and LOL.


On the other hand, Formal English can be described as the style of language used at the University level. This applies to the language used in journals, documentaries, magazines and publications. 

Formal English is used in more serious situations, for example during a job interview or emailing your University lecturer. It can also be used when you’re speaking to someone you aren't so familiar with.

Whilst so many people are good with conversational English, speaking and writing formal English is quite a task for several people and again, there are several Formal English textbooks and online courses that will furnish you with the knowledge of what formal English is about and how you can master it and use it for professional situations.

So, formal English can also be called Academic language and it includes more advanced vocabulary and expressions. 

Take note that conversational and Formal English are not necessarily two different languages. In other words, the differences between Conversational and Formal English depend on the context in question. If the situation is a casual context, conversational English would apply while if the context is formal or more professional, Formal English would apply.

Let's examine in detail the differences between Conversational and Formal English;

  • Conversational English uses short sentences, phrases, slang and abbreviations while Formal English uses longer sentences, correct grammar and is more detailed.

  • Conversational English can include phrases like watch out while Formal English would use advanced words like observe.

  • Slangs like see ya are common in conversational English while see you soon will be more appropriate for Formal English.

  • Conversational English is used in casual settings, such as social media, texting, social gatherings and face-to-face meet-ups while Formal English is used in an academic or professional setting such as a workplace, academic, corporate, or job interview.

  • While conversational English is used to make simple conversations or writing, Formal English is used for official writing, and formal presentations/talks.

  • Conversational English is more focused on facts while Formal English is used to discuss advanced ideas or topics.

Having established that there are different contexts where Conversational and Formal English apply, it's also important to note that you shouldn't just focus on using one style of English while neglecting the rest, instead you should be flexible and learn how to use the appropriate English style for the right situation. Remember that both Conversational and Formal English have their place.

If you’re wondering how to decide whether to use formal or conversational English, here are a few tips to put in mind;

  • Pay a close observation: This would especially be helpful when you’re talking to someone for the first time. If this person is older than you, you should observe how this person speaks to you and follow suit. 

  • Let your closeness set the tone: If you sound professional when you should be casual or sound casual when you should be professional, it can be a turn-off and this is why it's better to speak to someone based on your closeness with them. Let's say you’re emailing or writing to someone you're not familiar with, formal English would be more suitable as this would help you sound polite and professional.

  • Take the time to think first: This approach works best for a lot of situations. So, whether you are drafting an email, resume, text message, essay or write-up, taking the time to go through your writing or response as the case may be will help you spot if you have truly factored in the context in question.

  • Keep things simple: When you aim to simply communicate your ideas, you're able to communicate more freely and fluently. There's no gain in using complicated words whose meanings you are unsure of.

  • Ask for feedback: You might feel uncomfortable making this move but trust me, it's always helpful to ask the listener if the words you've used were appropriate. This approach can be effective, especially when having real-time conversations because it would help you understand the words to use further along the conversation making it easier to know how to relate with your listener in future.

To sum up, you should avoid feeling intimidated if you fail to use the appropriate English style in a particular context, remember that it takes a lot of practice and time to blend both styles of English fluently. 

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