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English email style: formal or informal?

By Matthew, September 26 2015, 08:00
There are three styles of email in English: formal; neutral; and casual. This article tells you which you should use, and gives you some useful phrases in casual and formal English.

When you write email, you have to make sure your style is appropriate. Too casual, and you will seem unprofessional; too formal, and you might seem unfriendly or cold.

Three styles

There are three styles you can choose from when writing email: formal; neutral; and casual.

Formal Neutral Casual
Not common. Common at work. Common between friends.
Polite, careful language.
Fixed expressions.
Formal words (usually from Latin).
Clear and direct language.
Short sentences.
Casual language like speech.
Uses slang.
Complaints, requests, proposals etc.
Messages to strangers.
Messages between colleagues and clients. Messages between friends & family.
For very close colleagues.
Correct grammar & spelling very important.
Mistakes can be a big problem.
Some informal grammar is OK.
Can use contractions like "don't" or "I'm".
Spelling & grammar should still be correct.
Some spelling & grammar mistakes are OK.

In your day-to-day life, you will find that most of the time you write neutral or casual emails. Formal emails are much rarer.

With casual emails, you can make a few mistakes. However, in a business setting, your grammar, spelling and punctuation should always be correct. Mistakes in grammar and spelling are unprofessional. You can use a neutral style in business. It can help you develop a closer relationship with clients and colleagues. Your language can be more personal, and you don't have to worry too much about formal expressions. Everyone is busy, so people appreciate a short and clear message.

Useful phrases

Here is a table of casual and formal email phrases for you to use. When you are using a neutral tone, it is a good idea to use a few formal phrases too, so that you are polite and friendly. 

Casual Formal
What do you need? Please let us know your requirements.
Thanks for your email on the 17th. Thank you for your email of the 17th.
Sorry, I can't make it. I am afraid that I will not be able to attend.
I'm sorry to tell you that... It is with regret that we advise you that...
I promise... I can assure you that...
Could you...? I was wondering if you would be able to...
You haven't... We note that you have not...
Don't forget... We would like to remind you that...
I need to... It is necessary for me to...
Shall I...?: Would you life me to...?
But... However, ... /Nevertheless, ...
Also... In addition... /Furthermore, ...
So... Therefore, .../Consequently, ...
Could you please...? I would be grateful if you could...
Sorry for... Please accept our sincerest apologies for...
Re... With regard to... /With reference to...
See you next week. I look forward to meeting with you next week.
  • Matthew's picture
    About me
    I am from New Zealand. I lived in Japan and Brazil for a long time, but now I am back home in Auckland. I am the founder of Poligo. I like to play guitar and video games and surf when I get the chance. I have a wife and two boys.
    I specialize in teaching English to professionals and English teachers. I have taught English since 2001 in Japan, New Zealand and Brazil. I speak Japanese & Portuguese. I am the founder of Poligo and The English Farm (an online school for business English).

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