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VCE English Language



                               1. View this video and take notes of  the  several examples of Informal and formal english 


















What is the difference between formal and informal language?

Formal and informal language serve different purposes. The tone, the choice of words and the way the words are put together vary between the two styles. Formal language is less personal than informal language. It is used when writing for professional or academic purposes like university assignments. Formal language does not use colloquialisms, contractions or first person pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘We’.

Informal language is more casual and spontaneous. It is used when communicating with friends or family either in writing or in conversation. It is used when writing personal emails, text messages and in some business correspondence. The tone of informal language is more personal than formal language.

Some examples of formal and informal language are shown below:



Contractions-Since the word contract means to squeeze together, it seems only logical that a contraction is two words made shorter by placing an apostrophe where letters have been omitted. Examples of common contractions in the English language include: I'm: I am. Can't: can not.


Informal: The improvements canʼt be introduced due to funding restrictions. Formal: Improvements cannot be introduced due to funding restrictions.


Informal: I donʼt believe that the results are accurate. Formal: The results are not believed to be accurate.


Informal: The research project wonʼt continue next year. Formal: The research project will not continue next year.


Phrasal verbs - 


Phrasal verbs are usually two-word phrases consisting of verb + adverb or verb + preposition.


Informal: The balloon was blown up for the experiment. Formal: The balloon was inflated for the experiment.


Informal: The patient got over his illness. Formal: The patient recovered from his illness.


Informal: The results of the study were mixed up. Formal: The results of the study were confused.



slang  -a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

Colloquialism- a word or phrase that is not formal or literary and is used in ordinary or familiar conversation.


Informal: The mob was very rowdy during the protest against cuts to university funding. Formal: The crowd was very rowdy during the protest against the cuts to university funding.


Informal: Lecturers still count on students to use correct grammar and punctuation in essays. Formal: Lecturers expect students to use correct grammar and punctuation in essays.



Informal: It was raining cats and dogs. Formal: It was raining very heavily.


First person pronouns

First-person pronouns - are used by a speaker or writer to refer to him or herself, such as 'I' or 'me,' or a group they are a part of, such as 'us'...


Informal: I considered various research methods for the study. Formal: Various research methods were considered for the study.


Informal: We believe the practice is unsustainable. Formal: It is believed the practice is unsustainable.


Informal: During the interview I asked students about their experiences. Formal: During the interview students were asked about their experiences.

Ellipsis happens when we leave out (in other words, when we don’t use) items which we would normally expect to use in a sentence if we followed the grammatical rules. The following examples show ellipsis. The items left out are in brackets [ ]:

I am absolutely sure [that] I have met her somewhere before.


[Have you] Seen my gloves anywhere?


They’re in the kitchen.

She sang and [she] played the violin at the same time.


[Are] You ready yet?


Yes. [I’m] Ready now. [I’m] Sorry to keep you waiting.

In fact, when we use ellipsis appropriately, no one thinks we have ‘left out’ anything, and ellipsis is normal and very common, especially in informal conversation.


Acronyms a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words and pronounced as a separate word, ...

TAFE Technical and Further Education
ANZAC Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
QANTAS Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services

Initialisms-  an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g. BBC ).

UTS University of Technology Sydney
ISO International Standards Organisation
OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

The first time an acronym or initialism is used in an essay, it is acceptable to write the name in full with the acronym or initialism in brackets after it. Every subsequent time it is used the acronym or initialism can be used on its own. Commonly known acronyms such as ANZAC and QANTAS do not need to be written in full.

If an acronym or initialism needs to be made into a plural, add a small ‘s’ to it without an apostrophe. 



1bWrite an informal letter to a friend  in China where you invite him/her  to your VCE  graduation  evening and after party . Try to use contractions , phrasal verbs , slang / Colloquialism /  First Person pronouns, Ellipsis , Acronyms or Initialisms   ( 250 words ) 

1c Write an informal postcard to a friend describing your travels or experience in Australia  50- 100 words 































Characteristics of Informal Language: summary


  • An informal style is widespread in blogs and on the internet.  While it sets up a close relationship with readers and reaches a wide audience, it tends to compromise authority.  It may also be used sparsely in editorials, opinion articles and letters to the editor to add an element of surprise or create a contrasting effect.

  • to socialize (phatic conversation): language used to establish an atmosphere or to create a social contact

  • to maintain friendship/share social rapport

  • to exchange or elicit information

  • to discuss a common interest

  • phatic – transactional; persuasive; expressive

  • According to linguists, gender, age and social or regional differences affect the language we use

  • We adapt to demands of each speech encounter almost subconsciously.

  • Cultural expectations and shared values of a society dictate the roles speakers must fill if they  are  to be accepted

  • Informal language encourages intimacy, solidarity and a social connection with the audience/speakers. 

  • Informal language is also generally more efficient in terms of saving time, 

  • However, at times informal language can be more ambiguous.

Informal Language Encourages Solidarity

Think of slang terms that your friends may use around you – they are being purposely used to foster a social connection with you – to create a sense of the in-group, while excluding the ‘out-group’.

Similarly, think of the use of the active voice in comparison to the more formal passive voice:

“I say sorry” – Active

“Sorry is being said by me” – Passive

Which would sounds more PERSONAL and more SINCERE? Definitely the more informal active voice.

Informal Language Creates Efficiency

Think of syntactic ellipsis and phonological elision when you think of efficiency. But efficiency in terms of what? Saving time, yes. As humans, we like to take the path of least resistance – so to ensure we achieve this, we’ll try to economise what we can.

Ellipsis – Syntax

We may omit whole words from our sentences/utterances without affecting the intended meaning. For example, we may say ‘You going now’ instead of ‘Are you going now?’. This is very common in informal everyday conversation, and less so in planned, formal documents/speeches.

Elision – Phonology

We may say ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’ – or even write it like this!

Informal Language Ambiguity

Due to this economisation of speech, and often new slang terms, sometimes informal language can indeed be unclear (ambiguous). For example, not everyone may know what ‘chat’ means in an informal context (it means disgusting), or even ‘bae’ (those this was popularised quite some time ago!).

Informal Language Features List

  • Slang terms

  • Colloquialisms

  • Phrasal verbs (verb + preposition)

  • Contractions

  • Abbreviations/Acronyms/Initialisms

  • Ellipsis

  • Swearing/colourful language

  • Discourse particles (like, you know)

  • Interrogative tags

  • Diminutives

  • Simple and compound sentence structure – lack of complex/compound-complex sentences

  • Inference

  • Interrogative sentence types

  • Non-standard orthography

  • Capitalisation/Bolding/Italics

  • Exclamation marks

  • Features of spoken discourse

  • The use of deictic expressions

  • The use of personal pronouns (e.g. ‘I’, ‘We’)

  • The use of active sentence structure as opposed to passive

  • Beginning a sentence with a conjunction

  • Emoticons

  • Neologisms

  • Idioms

  • Assimilation

  • Elision

  • Reduction

  • Shortenings

Before your first informal language SAC, I would recommend you create a list of these on your computer with definition and examples. Always remember that state WHY this informal feature has been used in a given context! For example, a speaker in a friendship group may use swearing to build social rapport with his/her interlocutors and to create social solidarity. 

Explore these pages which give a detailed account of Informal Language 


Formal Language 

So, what exactly is formal language and what are its purposes?

Formal language is literally language (lexemes etc.) that has the following features:

  • It's generally less ambiguous (i.e. clearer)

  • It's generally more cohesive (glued together better)

  • More explicit

  • Often reinforces social distance and relationship hierarchies

  • Promotes a user's authority and expertise (i.e. think of jargon)

  • It clarifies, manipulates or even obfuscates (confuses)

  • It can negotiate social taboos, that is it can be used to avoid offending certain groups in society.

Formal language can be used in many contexts to serve the following main functions:

  • To inform

  • To instruct

  • To celebrate

  • To commemorate

You'll often find that formal language is used mainly in written texts to be clear (i.e. less ambiguous) or, on the other end of the spectrum, to obfuscate or manipulate (i.e. confuse). Make sure you identify this correctly in any formal piece you're given.

This notion of obfuscation can be seen in syntactic structures, in particular in agentless passives. For example, politicians or businesspeople love to use these sentence structures to hide the truth (confuse): "A decision has been made to close the school down". Wait, who is closing the school down? In addition, nominalisations (verb to noun) can also serve the purpose of obfuscation. Recall that nominalisations represent an abstract idea and not a concrete object. For example, 'The destablisation of the economy caused adverse effects". In this example, 'destablisation' is an abstract idea; what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that businesses shut down? In this case, we're not entirely sure. Likewise, this sentence doesn't state WHO did this action, therefore removes blame entirely from an entity, therefore it is unclear.

This notion of unambiguity can also be seen in legal documents (i.e. terms and conditions). In order to protect a company's legal interests, it will often employ formal language in its legal documents so as to ensure unambiguity and the prevention of loopholes.

Unit 3: Language variation and social purpose

In this unit students investigate English language in contemporary Australian social settings, along a continuum of informal and formal registers. They consider language as a means of social interaction, exploring how through written and spoken texts we communicate information, ideas, attitudes, prejudices and ideological stances.

Students examine the stylistic features of formal and informal language in both spoken and written modes: the grammatical and discourse structure of language; the choice and meanings of words within texts; how words are combined to convey a message; the purpose in conveying a message; and the particular context in which a message is conveyed. Students learn how to describe the interrelationship between words, sentences and text as a means of exploring how texts construct message and meaning.

Students consider how texts are in influenced by the situational and cultural contexts in which they occur. They examine how function, field, mode, setting and the relationships between participants all contribute to a person’s language choices, as do the values, attitudes and beliefs held by participants and the wider community. Students learn how speakers and writers select features from within particular stylistic variants, or registers, and this in turn establishes the degree of formality within a discourse. They learn how language can be indicative of relationships, power structures and purpose through the choice of a particular variety of language and through the ways in which language varieties are used in processes of inclusion and exclusion.

You can download a postcard template here or simply write on a sheet of paper

Differences in formal and Informal Language 

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