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What Is Formal Diction?

Formal diction is appropriate at many college lectures.
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  • Written By: J. Bonner
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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Diction is the style of writing or speaking that a person uses, especially regarding his or her choice of words and phrases. Formal diction involves the use of dignified words, a large vocabulary and correct grammar, and its use is associated with highly educated people. It differs from informal diction and colloquial diction, which involve the use of simpler language, everyday words, imprecise grammar and sometimes slang terms. Formal speech might be considered proper for some types of writing, such as essays, thesis papers or legal documents. It might be used in some types of oral communication, such as speeches or business presentations, but it is rarely used in conversations between people.

Informal diction is conversational and typically is used in everyday conversations and writing, such as when a person is writing to or having conversations with his or her family members or friends. Formal diction usually is reserved for more formal situations, such as business, educational or legal situations in which it is beneficial for the person to present his or her information or opinions in a professional tone. To some people, the use of formal language in an informal setting might be considered arrogant, but other people might consider it a sign of intelligence or sophistication. Conversely, the use of informal diction in formal settings might be seen as a sign of indifference, low class or poor education to some people, but a sign of being approachable, easygoing or relaxed to others.

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Slang terminology, idiomatic expressions, clichés, contractions and abbreviated words typically are avoided in formal diction. In some instances, it might include the use of only the third grammatical person, avoiding the use of the first person or second person in writing or oral communication. The use of the present tense and avoiding the use of exclamation marks in writing also are often considered elements of this type of diction.

Formal diction is sometimes considered to involve longer, more complex words, but this is not necessarily the case. It would, however, be accurate to say that this type of diction involves the use of the correct words or best words at all times, no matter whether they are long or short. This way of speaking or writing might involve the use of rare or obscure words at times, but most adults and many younger students should be able to understand what is being communicated.

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