What's the adjective for register in the linguistic sense (formal, informal, frozen, etc.)?

There is a ___________ difference between "how do you do" and "howdy".

I thought up something like registerial (on the model of ministerial and managerial), which was apparently listed on Wiktionary, although with no citation whatsoever.

  • 3
    Just go with a difference in register. Mar 17, 2023 at 4:02
  • @TinfoilHat In register is not as pithy as a single word. Besides, I reckon register is something commonly discussed enough to merit its own adjective. Mar 17, 2023 at 4:15
  • 5
    Register difference is normal, like tense/number/mood difference. Zero derivation is the norm in technical terms. Mar 17, 2023 at 14:55
  • 1
    @JohnLawler That depends. For certain terms, their adjectival derivations have acquired non-grammatical meanings & it's no longer appropriate to use them for grammar. For example, the adjective for "tense" would probably be "temporal", but grammarians actually consider "tense" and "time" separate things, and "temporal" is more about "time" than "tense." Likewise, "numeral" and "numeric" have more to do with digits and numbers than grammatical number. "Modal" on the other hand is perfectly suitable for "mood," as in "modal verbs" or "modal concepts" such as "subjunctive" or "imperative." Mar 20, 2023 at 9:22

2 Answers 2


I would suggest using the noun register in your example:

There is a noticeable difference in register between "how do you do" and "howdy".

That said, if you must use an adjective form, the only option seems to be your own suggestion, as in:

Note that in the text as shown in Figure 4, there is a registerial difference between the 'Education' generic stage (which does not thematize temporals) and the 'Career+Movements' stage (which does).

Generic Technologies for Selective Information Presentation: An Application of Computational Linguistic Methods (Where registerial has been used several times)

This is an interesting development and is likely to reflect the registerial difference between speech and writing in the use of conjunctive markers

Complex Sentences in Grammar and Discourse

  • 1
    Registerial strikes me as ugly and non-native but apparently it gets some amount of use. I'd never heard it before though and still wouldn't use it. May 23, 2023 at 7:26
  • There are comparable derivations like magister->magisterial, but that in itself might make you pause, as magister is rare these days. (Sister->sisterly isn't a good guide because "sister" is Germanic.)
    – Stuart F
    May 23, 2023 at 10:18
  • 'A registerial difference' is very rare. Google ngrams. May 23, 2023 at 10:28
  • @hippietrail I would call your inclination more about "idiomaticity" rather than "nativeness". There's really nothing "native" about words like "ministerial" and "managerial" either, as they were both borrowings, although "managerial" was a coinage by English speakers from two borrowed elements. Jun 16, 2023 at 11:56

I don't see anything wrong with using just "register" in your example as

There is a register difference between "how do you do" and "howdy".

This is known as a noun adjunct or an attributive noun, where a noun is used as if it were an adjective without actually being an adjective (as evidenced by the fact that we can't form the comparative or superlative, even periphrastically with more/most).

They are very common, and some even become adjectives over time, like "fun", which is why its comparative and superlative are periphrastic, not inflectional.

  • 1
    Also known as an attributive noun, or using a noun attributively. May 23, 2023 at 7:27
  • 1
    @hippietrail Attributive! That's the word I was looking for!
    – No Name
    May 23, 2023 at 8:23
  • I always forget it myself and had to ask the internet for it again this time too (-: May 23, 2023 at 8:47

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