I think this might be a duplicate, but I will continue on anyway.

Just as the question says, when would it be inappropriate/out of place to speak formal English? The reason I ask this is because I am still learning formal and informal language. Also, why would it be inappropriate to speak formally during that time? I read that informal speech is used with friends and family, but is formal speech different?

According to http://www.phrasemix.com/concepts/casual-speech: Use casual English with your family and friends. If you speak formally with these people, it may seem like you're angry with them or trying to push them away.

Oh, I also apologize for asking this, I am not a native speaker of English.

  • When is it inappropriate to use formal language in your own language? It may not be identical to English, but it will give you a good hint.
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 18:51
  • Look at it this way: In your mother tongue, you speak one way with friends and one way with grandma. Not another language, but word choices that fit the setting, especially the person in your direct conversation. Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 18:53
  • It depends on what you mean by "formal English" and "informal English." I would not trust the examples on the linked web page. It calls many things "casual" that are actually normal many other situations as well. For example, omitting "that" from certain kinds of clauses is normal, and possible even in formal speech and writing. Using contractions is usual in any kind of spoken language, including most formal spoken situations, and common in many written contexts as well.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 19:00
  • I meant to say: "actually normal in many other situations as well". You can find contractions for example in the Inaugural Address of United States President George Bush, 1989, certainly a fairly formal occasion.
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 19:39

2 Answers 2


I understand where you're coming from in wanting to use the correct phrasing with the correct people, however, from my experience, it's not so cut and dry.

Yes, you can speak informally to your friends and family, but the counterargument would be that some people talk to their friends formally, the same goes for families. Yes, you can talk to teachers and people above you formally, but there are many instances when you're close enough to these people that you can speak more casually and informally.

What I'm trying to say is: it is completely case by case. Yes, by all means, when you meet someone for the first time speak to them formally as it often conveys politeness, but you don't have to do so because they're a certain role in society.

With that said, don't walk up to the CEO of your company for the first time and utter, "Yo, what it is?" as a greeting.

Lastly, it could also depend on the environment. If that same CEO is a close friend of yours, you go fishing together and talk about anything under the sun, using the foulest of language, that doesn't mean you should do so at work, in front of other employees. In this instance, it might come off as a sign of disrespect as if you think you're above them.

Conclusion: It doesn't matter too much what role this person plays in your life, but it does matter where you are and how familiar your relationship is.


When you are close with someone like family you would usually relax with them physically as well as linguistically, so informal speech is usually associated with the speaker being relaxed although they could also be careless or rude. Synonyms of informal; natural, easy [http://www.dictionary.com/browse/informal].

There are situations in which you would talk formally to family and friends, for example if you're asking for something from them or you don't know them that well. Some people accidentally speak more formally to family/friends if they are angry, telling a lie or in the company of others (not family or friends). As always with English there are many exceptions and varying circumstances

These pages explain it in a few different ways;

http://www.antimoon.com/how/formal-informal-english.htm http://www.talktocanada.com/blog/2-ways-to-talk-casual-and-formal-in-the-english-language/

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