Formal and Informal Vocabulary Do's and Don'ts

or "Some tricks of the trade."

This chapter provides alternative words for you to use instead of the slang and informal language that in generally is used in everyday speech.


These are your tools!

Learn them well.

You will use this 'do's' and don'ts' list when you are proofreading!


The words listed here have been gathered from years of studying student difficulties. This list is not exhaustive (a complete list), as there are many more words that are problematic in the English language.


You must work to 'own' the alternatives to these common and informal words. 


For formal speaking and writing, NEVER use the slang words and try not to use the informal one-syllable words.

One strategy is to use the slang or informal words when you write your draft, but then, when you edit, to replace these words with the proper alternatives.


I always require that my students continue to expand the 'do's and don'ts' list on their own. For your future studies, you should develop your own, expanding the list to include words that you come across and have learned to use.


You will notice that many of these one-syllable words (such as 'so' and 'like'), have multiple (more than one) meanings. The fact that these words have many possible meanings indicates that they are vague and imprecise (they are not 'precise' or not 'exact').

You may recall that we discussed that formal language is accurate, precise, and clear. 

This is because formal communication must be specific in order to communicate technical, legal, scientific and other complicated concepts. As you progress in your study of English, you will learn more and more words and will begin to appreciate their subtle ('almost imperceptible' or 'very slight') differences in usage and meaning.

When dealing with words that have several meanings, you must use your reading skills to determine the intended meaning of the word when you read it. 


You must define the word based on the context.

When writing, you must be sure that the way you are using the word in the sentence communicates the meaning that you intend. Larger dictionaries very often provide a sample sentence for each meaning of the word. These sample sentences can help you to learn how to use the word yourself. That is why you need to own these words, and why you always need to look them up!


At the end of this section a list of words to avoid and words to use in their place. First, however, the words will be discussed.


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