Writing Letters: formal & informal English

What do I mean by “formal” and “informal”? “Informal” means something you would write to your friends, something you would write to your parents, – well, probably your parents unless you’re afraid of your parents, then you might be more formal -, your classmates, your coworkers. Okay? So this is… It means it’s not formal; it’s for people you know well. On the other hand, “formal” English we use with strangers, we use with our boss, in the workplace, we use it in these different ways. So it’s the English you really have to think about, whereas informal is kind of the relaxed English.

So, sometimes you will have to write a letter formally, maybe to your boss or your company, other times maybe you’re on holiday and you want to write a letter to your friend, you’ll use informal English. So what is the difference?

Informal English uses contractions. What are contractions? “Didn’t”, “wouldn’t”, “couldn’t”, “haven’t”, “hasn’t”. So if you see a verb with an apostrophe and then a “t”, that is a contraction. Okay? It’s very important to know this because in formal writing, you don’t use contractions. “Didn’t” would be: “Did not”. I can write that for you. “Did not”. Couldn’t: could not, haven’t: have not, can’t: cannot. Okay? So that’s one major difference.

Another major difference between formal and informal writing is the use of idioms; the use of certain expressions. If I’m writing to my friend, maybe I’ll say: “Oh, you know, I’ve been very under the weather lately.” Meaning: I’ve been very sick. If I’m writing to my boss, I won’t use idioms. If I’m writing a formal letter, I will not use idioms. Those aren’t good to use in formal writing.

Phrasal verbs, this is another thing we find in informal writing. What is a phrasal verb? It’s a verb that has a preposition. Okay? So, for example: “find out”, “find” is a verb, “out” is the preposition. “Go” is the verb, “up” is the preposition. So the… The preposition adds a different meaning to the verb. Phrasal verbs are very difficult to learn; we have so many of them in English. Phrasal verbs are one of the hardest parts of learning English, but it’s possible, you can do it.