Colloquialisms are words or expressions used in everyday common speech or in informal writing. Colloquial language is typically acceptable in casual, ordinary, and familiar communication as when you speak or write to a friend, colleague, or family member. On the other hand, colloquial language should be minimized in formal communication such as when you write a report for work, or a paragraph or an essay for school.
Colloquial language is informal language which can vary from one geographical area to another. Furthermore, colloquial words and expressions are not rude, but simply reflect the closeness and knowledge between the speaker or the writer and the audience. It is also important to differentiate between colloquial English and slang. Slang, also informal language, is made up of words and expressions used within small social groups. For example, teenagers develop their own slang words and expressions to use among themselves.
If you use the occasional colloquialism in some of your formal writing, it is good practice to differentiate the appearance of the colloquialism’s text from the rest. For example, the colloquial word or phrase can be enclosed within quotation marks, or it can be typed in a special letter style or font. This is to draw the attention of the reader to the meaning of your colloquialism, and also to indicate to the reader that you are aware that the colloquialism is an exception to the intended formal writing.
The following are examples of colloquial expressions with their formal English alternative:
The following sentences contain colloquialisms. Complete each explanation by referring to the above examples: (answers given below).
Answers: 1. in trouble; 2. upset; 3. give up; 4. joking; 5. stop bothering me; 6. not possible; 7. joking; 8. exactly the same; 9. energetic; 10. Watching too much television; 11. a major weakness; 12. forgive; 13. strong; 14. working every day with paper forms and reports.
Understanding and using English colloquialisms will certainly help to develop one’s English language skills and communication skills. The degree to which you use colloquial language depends on your level of formality and association with your audience. Colloquialisms may add “humour” and “colour” to your language, yet colloquial language should be minimized in formal language as when writing paragraphs, essays, or reports for school or for work.
For online colloquial practice and quizzes, check these links:
Esl Quizzes (try the “Colloquial Expressions Referring to Time” quiz)
Check the following for reference and further detail:
Canadian Student Writer’s Guide, by Chelsea Donaldson
(May 31, 2009)
(Includes all 2002 to date Weekly Features with descriptions)