What are the basic differences between formal and colloquial English?

Is it right that colloquial English uses more contracted forms, slang expressions, phrasal verbs, subjunctive, and euphemisms?

And are there any phonologic differences? I was thinking about Received Pronunciation and dialects, but I am not sure.


1 Answer 1


As the English shifts from colloquial (say, spoken among friends) to formal (say, spoken in a courtroom), one would tend to see:

  • More words based on Latin (example: Latin-based urination instead of Saxon-based peeing)
  • A richer, older morphology (example: Whom did you go with? instead of Who did you go with?)
  • Use of moribund cases (example: If I were a rich man instead of If I was a rich man)
  • An adherence to an older syntax (example: With whom did you go? instead of Who did you go with?)
  • I'd say that you've got examples (2) and (3) in the wrong order; Ngram results might prove interesting. // Yes; 'Whom did you go with' flatlines, while 'If I were a rich' outperforms 'If I was a rich'. Though the points you make are broadly correct. Dec 11, 2015 at 19:25
  • One of the enduring uses of the subjunctive comes from Fiddler on the roof. The popular Word-processor-that-must-not-be-named gives me a green squiggle underline (for wrong usage) when I use the subjunctive.
    – rajah9
    Dec 14, 2015 at 13:46
  • I like the descriptor 'moribund'. Though some here would champion the use of the mandative subjunctive-or-is-it. It's cherished by US speakers in particular, so I'm surprised that your grammar-checker flags it (though perhaps you just mean the 'if he were' sort of irrealis construction). Dec 14, 2015 at 14:47

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