Using formal and informal language

Learning focus

To understand how and when to use formal and informal language.

This lesson includes:

  • one video about getting the right tone when you speak

  • four activities


Watch this short clip to see when it's appropriate to use formal and informal language in everyday life.

Learn when to use formal and informal language.

Formal language is used when we are communicating with people we don’t know very well and want to impress or show respect to. For example, police officers or head teachers.

Informal language is used when we are more relaxed and with people we know well.

For example:

  • Think about how you would answer your best friend if they asked you what you did at the weekend.
  • Now think about how you would answer the same question if your head teacher asked you instead.
  • How would each answer be different?

We often use formal language when we write. However, there are times where writing can be informal, like when we’re writing text messages, emails, postcards or letters to friends.

We use informal language more when we speak, but there are also times where it is expected that we speak formally. For example, in a classroom presentation or when meeting someone new.


You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Read these statements carefully and decide whether they are formal or informal. Look at the vocabulary each statement uses and how it sounds.

Top tip!

Think: ‘Would I speak like this to my head teacher?’ If you wouldn’t, then it is likely that the sentence is informal.

1. That film was awesome!

2. I regret to inform you that the shopping centre is now closed.

3. Wanna go to the chippy?

4. We were just hanging out at Em’s house.

5. The manager requests that everyone arrives for the meeting at 9am prompt.

6. That was very amusing. I laughed out loud.

Activity 2

Write one paragraph (at least six sentences) about what you got up to last weekend.

Write it informally, as if you are writing to your best friend.

Think carefully about how to make it informal. You might use nick names, funny words or even include jokes.

Activity 3

Now, write one paragraph (at least six sentences) about something you enjoy doing.

This time write formally, as if you are writing to your head teacher.

Again, think carefully about how you would write this. You’ll need to make sure your grammar is correct and use your best vocabulary.

Activity 4

Read both your paragraphs out loud and think about how you read them differently.

  • What do you notice about your body language when you read each one? Are you slouched or stood up straight?

  • What do you notice about your facial expressions when you read each one?

  • What do you notice about how they sound? Do you actually say them differently?

  • Why do you think you change these things?

If you can, get someone to pretend to be your best friend and then your head teacher. Ask them how they feel about your writing. Can they tell which one is formal and which is informal?

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about using formal and informal language.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you improve your writing.

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