This tag is for questions regarding formal, versus informal words and usage.

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63
votes
11answers
7k views

Is “data” considered singular or plural?

Related to this question and this question. My non-native English speaking friend just asked me: Data is ... or Data are ... I said both but that's because I've been desensitized from reading/...
81
votes
20answers
503k views

Which expressions can be used to close an email? [closed]

At the end of written communication like emails and letters, it is customary to use a closing valediction or "complementary close". Which formal and informal expressions can be used to end emails?
47
votes
5answers
17k views

Alternatives to “and/or”?

As a programmer, I have no problem with seeing or using "and/or" in technical documentation. For example, I can upvote an answer that satisfies me and/or mark it as accepted. That's perfectly ...
20
votes
9answers
75k views

“have” vs.“have got” in American and British English

I have looked through several questions and answers on EL&U, and often there is an indication that American English prefers "have" while British English prefers "have got". In addition, there are ...
5
votes
3answers
4k views

Should contractions be avoided in formal emails?

In a formal email of the kind where you begin with "Dear Mr. Surname" and finish with "Best regards", for example, should we use the following contractions? Or are the non contracted forms more ...
6
votes
4answers
9k views

What does “ain't” mean? [closed]

What does the contraction ain't mean? Is it appropriate to use it in formal settings?
33
votes
4answers
4k views

The times they are a-changin'

I have always been intrigued by the word usage in the title of this Bob Dylan song. Wikipedia mentions that the song was influenced by Irish and Scottish ballads: Dylan recalled writing the song ...
35
votes
6answers
86k views

Which is correct: “prefer X to Y” or “prefer X over Y”?

Many say that "prefer X to Y" has a more formal ring to it than "prefer X over Y". Are there any dialects where you wouldn't use "prefer X to Y" in colloquial speech at all? Conversely, are there any ...
15
votes
4answers
32k views

What are sentences like “the longer X, the more Y” called and can they be used in formal written English?

What is the type of sentence exemplified below called? Is it appropriate to use it in a scientific paper and formal written English in general? 1. The more pronounced the variation, the more the ...
22
votes
4answers
48k views

What's the difference between “informal”, “colloquial”, “slang”, and “vulgar”?

It seems many people get confused about the differences (and similarities) between "colloquial" and "slang", so what exactly does each term apply to? But to be even more thorough it seems to me we ...
14
votes
7answers
7k views

How do you decide which phrase to use when asking people to repeat what they said?

There are many different ways to ask people to repeat what they have just said. For example: Huh? What? Sorry? Pardon? What's that? Say that again, please I beg your pardon? I've ordered them ...
3
votes
5answers
40k views

“Will graduate” vs. “will be graduated” vs. “is going to graduate”

Which of the following sentences are correct? He will graduate in May. He will be graduated in May. He is going to graduate in May. Issue 1: Is the second one grammatical? Issue 2: ...
22
votes
4answers
54k views

“you” versus “You” as polite form of writing

Is it correct to write "You" with a capital Y as a form of politeness? If yes, should I use that form throughout the entire letter/document, or only at specific places?
12
votes
3answers
17k views

Were contractions less common in olden days?

We just viewed the new movie True Grit. The language of the characters was more formal sounding than we are used to, largely because of the absence of contractions. Is this historically accurate? Do ...
5
votes
5answers
17k views

Which is correct: “I’m done” or “I have finished”?

Which of these alternatives is grammatically correct? I’m done. or I have finished Like I’m done sounds very American, but is it grammatically correct?
5
votes
5answers
14k views

Why is “ain't” not listed in dictionaries?

Google finds 52,000,000 matches for ain't but non-natives simply can't look up this word. Wiktionary isn't helpful. Is it some kind of 'wildcard' for "am/is/are not"?
3
votes
2answers
4k views

Formal alternative for “suck” [closed]

What is a more decent/formal alternative for the word suck? I want to use it in the context of being bad at something. To be precise, I want to translate "To suck less at a job every day" to formal ...
13
votes
9answers
71k views

How often do people say “gotta”, “wanna” or “gonna” in English speaking countries?

I learned these three words from Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's English Dictionary. got|ta /g'ɒtə/ Gotta is used in written English to represent the words 'got to' when they are ...
5
votes
4answers
2k views

Why do some questions not start with an auxiliary verb?

When I learned English, my teachers told me that all questions must have an auxiliary verb at the beginning, just like Are you mad? or Is she playing? do. But when watching some movies or talking ...
5
votes
4answers
1k views

Can “let us” always be used in place of “let's”?

Me: Perhaps we need to make a left turn at Albuquerque Him: Let us try that Now I would have said, "Let's try that". "Let us" sounds wrong to me in this instance. Is it? Are there contractions ...
5
votes
2answers
12k views

“Thus” vs. “so” in formal English

Currently there are about 4000 international students from 110 different nations across the world, thus/so the university offers perfect conditions for socializing and making new friends. Is this ...
9
votes
5answers
15k views

Is using “and/or” recommended for formal writing, or is it frowned upon?

Is using "and/or" allowed in formal writing? If not, is there general way to represent the OR binary operator with as little space as possible in written English?
8
votes
8answers
6k views

Can the word “that” be used to refer to people?

I came across this SAT Question of the Day: Unbelievable as it may seem, many individuals that fought in the American Revolution were still alive in 1839, the year the world was introduced to ...
3
votes
3answers
783 views

What are the guidelines for usage of “will” and “is/are going to”?

I use them interchangeably, however I'd like to know when one is better or more appropriate than the other.
10
votes
2answers
57k views

Can I use “therefore”, “so”, “hence” and “thus” interchangeably?

I was taught that, at least, 'therefore' and 'so' and can be used interchangeably, one being informal, the other formal. But, even when written, replacing 'so' with 'therefore' doesn't seem correct. ...
13
votes
6answers
2k views

“Toward” or “towards” – what would a native speaker use?

In this question we learn that toward and towards are interchangeable, but that the former is somewhat more typical of U.S. English and the latter of British English, although there is some indication ...
9
votes
6answers
2k views

learn how to [verb] vs. learn to [verb]

"learn to [verb]" "learn how to [verb]" Is [1] merely a less formal version of [2]? If not, does [1] communicate something subtly different? Consider the following: In [2], the object of learning ...
10
votes
8answers
21k views

Usage of double dots (..) Is it formal?

I am sure that this wouldn't have much meaning, but still want to get acknowledged whether usage of double dots is formal. I have observed people using double dots in business Emails. Usually while ...
9
votes
3answers
1k views

“just because… doesn't mean…”

It appears to me that the construction "just because… doesn't mean…" isn't used in literature at all. Is its use limited to colloquial speech and informal writing? Note that while some people seem to ...
9
votes
3answers
2k views

Is “get” (in the sense of “become/make”) appropriate for formal writing?

Is the use of "get + adjective/participle" appropriate for formal writing (for example, scientific papers)? I am thinking of usages analogous to get fat get inflated get sick where the meaning ...
8
votes
3answers
4k views

“So long as” vs. “as long as”

Which phrase is more formal — "so long as" or "as long as"? Example: So long as Google Voice allows free long distance in North America, I will use it. As long as Google Voice allows free ...
6
votes
1answer
32k views

“so long as” vs. “as long as”

I just googled the difference between as long as and so long as. The difference has alredy been discussed here. There are, it seems, two contexts for these expressions: lengths and physical ...
4
votes
5answers
2k views

Why aren't there any common words for 'defecating' and 'urinating'?

Besides 'poo(p)ing' and 'peeing/weeing' used by and to children, besides 'shitting/crapping' and 'pissing' which are spoken, not polite, says the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, besides '...
4
votes
4answers
24k views

Is it suitable to use 'etc.' in an academic paper?

I'm writing one of my first academic papers and I'm not sure whether etc. is too informal. Should I use et cetera instead?
1
vote
2answers
5k views

Phrasal verbs (formal and informal use) [closed]

I'm not always comfortable with phrasal verbs. I find that Americans use a lot of phrasal verbs than say people from UK -- I might be completely wrong though. What I find most difficult with phrasal ...
7
votes
3answers
1k views

I haven't seen her “for”/“in” two days

What's the difference between using either for or in in the following examples? Bill hasn't taken a vacation for/in two years. Jack hasn't been to school for/in four days. I hadn't seen ...
15
votes
1answer
3k views

On the usage of “etcetera”

In Spanish, we use the word etcétera at the end of an enumeration to imply there are more things to mention, which may (or not) be important, but they will be omitted. Thus, I was fairly surprised ...
6
votes
2answers
23k views

What is the correct greeting to use in a formal email addressed to a department/team/company?

If the email were to be addressed to a specific person, you could write "Dear [Name]". But is it appropriate to write "Dear [Team / Department / Company]"? For example, "Dear Service Desk," and "...
18
votes
7answers
7k views

Indian-English usage of “Kindly”

I have noticed that the word "Kindly" is used a lot by some Indians speaking English as a second language. Does anyone know the origin of this?
18
votes
5answers
3k views

Is the lowercase pronoun “i” a feature of Indian English?

The Rule The personal pronoun “I” is always capitalized in English, regardless of its position in a sentence. This is an orthographic convention that every native speaker should know. Whenever I ...
11
votes
4answers
14k views

What's the difference between orthography and spelling?

The terms "spelling" and "orthography" seem to be largely synonymous. What is the difference really? Is it that "orthography" is a more formal or technical term and hence more well-defined? Or is it ...
3
votes
4answers
23k views

Formal way to wish good morning

I am not a native English speaker, the source of my learning is books, websites and of course movies and music. In the movie — if I remember the name correctly — The Last Samurai, I heard that they ...
5
votes
2answers
290 views

“The government 'is' always changing 'their' mind” in AmEng

Why would using the construct "is/their" instead of "is/its" in the following examples likely be frowned upon by some native speakers and marked as incorrect on tests? The class is working on its ...
5
votes
5answers
503 views

How dangerous is the acceptance of common usage on traditional English?

I mean how far should we flow on with the current called "common usage"? Is there a fear that the real English is going do disappear someday? By the way, as for me, I like common English myself. :)
4
votes
1answer
2k views

Confusion over “family name” in English: What about double-barrelled last names? [closed]

How do you fill out an official form in English that asks for just one last name when you instead have a surname which comprises more than one word? I currently live in a Latin country, where we ...
3
votes
4answers
11k views

What's an alternative for “hidden gem”?

Hidden gems is an idiom which means something which is extremely outstanding and not many people may know about; for example, Blame It on Rio by Stanley Donen is a good movie, but relatively unknown ...
1
vote
1answer
1k views

Subjunctive mood: 'was' usage after 'I wish' and 'if only'

SFX Magazine had declared the sentence below as follow: 1) STAR TURN, 2) BEST LINES. I wish Bernard Cribbins was my grandad. Perhaps he would be willing to adopt? Rattigan: “If only that ...
5
votes
5answers
3k views

Has “may” become a formal version of “can”?

When I went to school I was taught that when asking for something you use "may I (have/do something)". "Can" was used only when asking if you are "physically capable" of something. These days I have ...
5
votes
6answers
5k views

Usage of “ladies and gentlemen” to address two people of different sex

It seems to be not quite logical to use the traditional address "ladies and gentlemen" when there are only a single lady and a single gentleman in the room, not counting for the person who is speaking....
2
votes
7answers
12k views

Usage of the phrase “you don't know what you don't know”

What is the correct usage of phrase "you don't know what you don't know"? Can it be used in formal conversation/writing?