Is It OK to Use Conversational Phrases in Formal English Writing?

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English

I got a comment on my blog post Sometimes It Makes More Sense to Acquire English Vocab as Part of Figurative Speech from Binh Thanh asking the following question: “Can we use these phrases in formal writing?”

Now, for those who’re not familiar with the concept of idiomatic expressions and English collocations, here’s a very brief intro:

  • English language actually consists mostly of word GROUPS;
  • Phrases, expressions and idioms (otherwise known as collocations) form a big part of those word groups;
  • If you learn new English vocab as part of every-day expressions and idiomatic language, you’re so much more likely to speak fluently!

Now, Binh Thanh’s comment highlights a very long-standing myth, namely -formal, written English is a completely different beast altogether, and when you write formal correspondence or reports, for example, you have to write in a completely different way you speak.

Personally I call BS on that!

Use ANY Language You Want When Writing – For As Long As It’s Not Slang!

I STRONGLY believe that you can TOTALLY use any idiomatic language used in normal, spoken English (for as long, of course, as you don’t start using slang!) when you write any of the following:

  • Internal company correspondence;
  • Performance reports;
  • Letters and applications;
  • Business plans!


Simply because my experience of reading in English has thought me over the years that something that’s been written following rigid formal English writing rules is VERY HARD TO READ!

Most Successful Communicators Use Friendly, Easy-to-understand Language!

The most successful bloggers and online entrepreneurs communicate with their audience in writing the same way they’d speak.

The most interesting and captivating English fiction books are also written in a very easy-to-read and colloquial way.

Have you ever put a book down onto a library shelf just because you simply couldn’t read more than a couple of paragraphs of it? I have, and the reason has always been the very same – the writing style is so detached from real English that I have to really strain all of my cognitive senses to figure out what the author is trying to say in the book!

The very same goes with any type of written communication – people who understand the effectiveness of simple language, WILL use simple language and figurative, idiomatic language is definitely part of it.

Formal Writing is Oftentimes a Way of Impeding the Perception of the Message

Did you immediately understand the headline above?

Chances are – it took you some time to decipher the meaning of it, and it’s all because I used some fancy words – “to impede” and “perception” – to make it sound more formal.

I could have rephrased the above sentence the following way: “Formal Writing Often Prevents People from Understanding the Message”, and you have to agree that this second sentence is by far easier to understand.

Now, touching upon the actual subject of this sub-section of the article:

I really believe that on many occasions formal language is used to deliberately make the piece of writing hard to understand.

It’s very typical, for example, for various contract terms and conditions be written in a very hard-to-understand way, and I’d say that on 9 times out of 10 people never bother reading them! And it’s not just because those terms are laid out on 10 A4 sheets, it’s all because the legal English used in them is very, very hard to understand.

BOTTOM LINE: Forget About the Concept of Formal Written English!

I’ve been writing articles on my blog for years, and I’ve always used friendly and simple English in them. I even make sure to highlight various idiomatic expressions in read in my articles, and it just goes to show how effective such means of communication are.

Also, just have to look at any tabloid newspaper – they’re all printed using colloquial English and people just love reading such easy-to-perceive content.

It’s just a MYTH that:

  • If you’re an intelligent person, you have to use formal English;
  • Using colloquialisms in your writing you’ll make it sound worse.

This myth clearly stems from a hundred-year-old notion that your language also represents your social class, and the higher up in the social hierarchy you are, the more formal you have to write and speak.

Sure enough, I’m not advising people to start speaking using heavy slang and indecent language; the point I’m making is:

Contemporary people all over the world have realized the importance of writing the way people speak, and using idiomatic language and colloquial expressions in writing is 100% normal!

Any questions?

Feel free to ask! 😉



P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!


English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System
  • Of course those two passages don’t convey the very same EXACT meaning! What Orwell’s interpretation really represents is what one would read between the lines; the so-called hidden meaning.

    I do agree with him on one thing though – such language is prevalent in official communication when there’s a need to “sugarcoat” the message and make it appear either more appealing to the public or make it look less dire – just like in the example you provided.

    I’m sure we’d find similar passages in every government report or financial forecast. Here in Ireland, for instance, we’ve been hearing for years on end that:

    * We’ve hit the rock-bottom and now the only way is up;
    * We’ve turned the corner;
    * We’re seeing the green shoots of recovery…

    YET the recession has been going and on and doesn’t seem to abate despite all such and similar wishful statements being broadcast on the radio and TV on a daily basis…

  • Jacque

    The funniest thing is when he talks about oppression though (btw the whole paper is online on google), as if someone says ” I believe a proper relocation of negative human element for the cause of our entire wellbeing in the future may have its virtues in spite of our meantime proclivity against such.” means ” I think we should kill anyone who is in our way and I don’t care if you think that is baaaadddd”

  • I just did a quick read of the Wikipedia article about it – – seems like he’s gone a bit overboard all right! I do agree speaking/writing using very sophisticated terms is indeed what we should oppose and Orwell rightfully fights against it, but I don’t agree with some of his 6 six rules – especially about not using metaphors in writing and speech which I think is nonsensical!

  • Jacque

    Have you read George Orwells satirical paper on the decline of English? It hits it right on the spot about plain speech and overblown ones, but he gets a little over the edge.

  • Hi Sunny,

    I’m glad the message rang true with you, and indeed writing the way we speak is the only way forward if we want your English be easy-to-understand and free from any unnecessary formalities!



  • sunny Liu

    Hi Robby,
    Thanks for making me realize the importance of writing the way people speak and forget about the concept of formal written English!

    All the best,