In some languages there is a difference between written, formal and informal language. For example, I listened to a US president speak. He was not reading anything, but I think all words were completely formal as is written in a newspaper report.

Is there any difference between written and formal English?

1 Answer 1


The difference between formal and informal registers lies in the rules which are followed, not the medium of delivery. They are for all practical purposes different dialects of the language.

  • Formal utterances follow the rules which obtain in written academic works. They characteristically strive for careful construction with complex subordination, close attention to structural and rhetorical effect, and careful choice of words for unimpeachable precision. (This is not to say that these utterances always succeed in these laudable aims; but they try.)

  • Informal utterances follow the rules of ordinary discourse. They are characteristically marked by relatively simple syntax and mostly coordinate construction; they employ words more loosely, with greater concern for popular than academic use, and they tolerate a substantial amount of grammatical imprecision which is not permitted in formal utterances.

Informal does not mean 'non-standard', although it may embrace 'non-standard' uses for rhetorical effect. When we speak of Standard English, we mean utterances appropriate to their context and audience, not utterances which conform to a single canon of rules.

Both written and spoken utterances may be either formal or informal; but only a very practised orator can manage either the intricacies of fully formal speech or the vigor and effectiveness of good informal speech on the fly; and there are today very few of such speakers. So when the President or any other public figure gives a speech, even a fairly informal one, it is almost always written and read more or less verbatim. (It may appear to be spontaneous if the speaker is reading from a teleprompter.) Such addresses are followed too closely, and the consequences of mis-speaking are too weighty, to leave the form of expression to the speaker's improvisational abilities.

  • in some languages written text has been unchanged for many years, but spoken language has changed. So it may seem a bit ridiculous if someone says something as is written. because many words are pronounced otherwise. So formal speech without text is usually different from formal speech with text. Do you say there's not such a thing in English?
    – user288
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 1:25
  • 3
    @CutieKrait English spelling is basically of the 15th century; the pronunciation has changed drastically, and native speakers pronounce any text from the last four or five hundred years according to their various dialects. Since about 1600 the written and spoken dialects have been in intimate contact: innovations arise in either and spread freely to the other, albeit with some 'lag'. Written language can be rewritten, as speech cannot, so it sustains much more complex structures; but most speakers are familiar with the written dialect and can follow it without undue difficulty. Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 1:43

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