What is the difference between colloquial an oral in the phrases, colloquial English and oral English?

  • 1
    I like this question because the English language doesn't employ as strong a distinction between its oral and written forms as some other languages, like French (with written tenses and moods that simply don't exist orally, such as l'imparfait du subjonctif leconjugueur.com/frimparfaitsubjonctif.php). I believe (merely anecdotally) that this may have encouraged blurring the line somewhat between oral and colloquial/informal.
    – msanford
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 0:02
  • 2
    Uh, colloquial sex is not nearly as much fun? Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


Alternatively, for the linguists out there: oral refers communication medium whereas colloquial refers to register.

Considered this way, the concepts are not mutually exclusive: would you consider a speech (i.e., oral communication) given by Queen Elizabeth II colloquial? Surely not! Given by President Barack Obama? Quite possibly…

For another example: colloquial is in opposition to formal (among others), whereas oral is in opposition to written, signed, etc.

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    In other words, a speech by President Obama is more likely to include colloquial English than a speech by Queen Elizabeth II, but both are equally oral English.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 23:49

"oral English" is any spoken English. "colloquial English" is informal, and may include language that might be unacceptable for printing.

  • +1 Furthermore, informal oral often employs colloquial language.
    – msanford
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 23:42

Colloquial comes from the word conversation, specifically, according to the OED

 1. Of or pertaining to colloquy; conversational.

Perhaps a better way to phrase your question is - What is the difference between oral and conversational English.

Conversational English is typically oral, but oral English is not necessarily conversational.

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