We get a lot of questions from quaerants who are concerned about the use of "formal" English, and I would really like to know how best to answer such questions. What should we tell them? There's no such thing as formal English? It's a cultural thing and therefore off-topic? It's just a matter of style (which is usually the case) and therefore off-topic? All of these options seem unsatisfactory to me, and I don't know how best to advise them. What should we do?

Please don't kick this into the chat rooms. I find them very difficult to use. It wouldn't be so bad if they were threaded.

1 Answer 1


English has both formal and informal registers. Register affects word choice, grammar and (in spoken English) pronunciation.

Academic English typically uses a formal register. But the English that learners hear in the media (especially film and television series) is often in an informal register. Learning the difference between formal and informal registers and learning to use them properly is part of learning English. For this reason, questions about formal English should be within the scope of ELL SE.

Linguistics SE has several questions about "register":

  • This is useful. Are registers culturally dependent? Would a formal register in Indian English be different to BrE and AmE?
    – Mick
    Nov 16, 2016 at 11:02
  • @Mick I haven't looked into that. Geographic differences would strongly affect the informal registers because they are linked with local slang etc. In academic English, geographic differences would be less important because it's a more "international" type of English. In legal English, I assume the most important differences would concern vocabulary.
    – Tsundoku
    Nov 16, 2016 at 11:17
  • @Mick. The registers are culturally dependent to the extent the language is. But the range of registers and their uses tend to be comparable between cultures even when not every culture uses every register.
    – MMacD
    Nov 22, 2016 at 19:14

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