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Colloquialisms refer to expressions that are colloquial, that is, conversational or very informal style. These are not incorrect, but are dispreferred for academic context, such as formal professional, academic or business discourse, or formal academic or business writing. Some colloquial expressions are more informal, general, or vague, and are less commonly used in academic writing; the more formal alternatives are preferred. See also the page on informal expressions for more examples and types of informal expressions.

1 General

Some general issues and features of colloquial writing style.

  • Unprofessional tone or negative tone
  • Use of dialogue style, question and answer style, quoted expressions
  • Using quotation marks to highlight new terms or key terms
  • Overuse of quotations
  • Informal vocabulary, such as terms in the sections below.

Slang terms
  • Hey, that's cool. Colorado has legalized weed, so we can buy some grass and get toked.

Informal idioms

This can include common idioms, cliché expressions (overused common expressions), and aphorisms (common expressions that convey general truths or sentiments).

  • That's putting the cart before the horse.
  • It's driving me up the wall.
  • Hey, you have to start somewhere.
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • But very cloud has a silver lining.

Regional expressions, or dialect forms of English
  • They had to schlep / lug that heavy sofa to the second floor. ("schlep" = New York slang; "lug" = Southern US slang)

Expletives, and vulgar or taboo expressions
  • pissed, bloody, damn, hell, heck

Sexist or racist language
  • biddy, old hag, old goat, honkey (and many others that cannot be printed here)

2 Nouns and pronouns


In many contexts, these terms might be vague or too non-specific, and would be better if replaced by a more specific noun, which will depend on the context.

  • person, people → individual, Canadians, researchers, subjects, voters, males, participants ...
  • thing → object, device, item, situation, circumstance, subject, element ...
  • part → portion, section, sector, segment, aspect
  • way (e.g., a way to do something) → manner, method, means, methodology, instrument, aspect

Personal pronouns

The second person you in writing sounds very informal or personal, and it is generally avoided in all forms of academic writing. Likewise, second-person verb forms are avoided. The first person I and we can sound informal, especially the singular I and me. These are generally avoided in formal writing, except when the authors need to comment directly, e.g., when explaining their rationale for doing something. First person is rarely used in science writing, occasionally in social science writing, and somewhat more often in humanities writing, such as in literature studies. If first person is needed, we is better than I.

Indefinite pronouns
  • someone → an individual, a Canadian, a participant
  • something → an object, a device, an item

3 Verbs

Second person

Second person verb forms, including commands aimed at the reader, are dispreferred and are rare in formal writing, e.g., Don't ever do this at home.


Contractions, especially colloquial contractions, are colloquial; e.g., ain't it? → isn't it?, is it not, is it not so?; (UK English) innit?isn't it, is it not?

Light verbs

These are very common, everyday verbs that are rather general in meaning.

  • be → exist, occur, equal, consist of, comprise (of)
  • have → possess, contain, exhibit
  • give → provide, yield, produce, lead to, impart
  • do → perform, execute, carry out, implement, manage
  • make → create, produce, facilitate
  • go, run, come → proceed, journey, travel, progress, exceed

Phrasal verbs

When possible, phrasal verbs should be replaced with more formal verbs. For a more complete list, see the page on informal expressions.

  • find out → find, discover, ascertain, determine, decide on, assess
  • get over → recover
  • go out → exit, diminish, leave, depart, extinguish, cease, die, dim, expire, subside, decline, dwindle, recede, quit, retire, withdraw
  • take out → excise, remove, clear, exclude, omit, extirpate, destroy

4 Adjectives, adverbials, & other modifiers

In many contexts, these terms might be vague or too non-specific, and would be better if replaced by a more specific word, which will depend on the context.

  • bad → negative, pejorative, poor, ineffective, adverse
  • big, huge → large, significant, enormous, incredible, gargantuan, gigantic, massive
  • a bit, a little bit → slightly, somewhat
  • good → sufficient, excellent, optimal, ideal, studious, prime, positive, effective, beneficial
  • kind of, sort of → somewhat, slightly
  • a lot of, lots of → many, numerous, a large number / amount of

5 Discourse management expressions

Discourse markers
  • anyway(s): This is conversational, and can be deleted.
  • besides → in addition to, furthermore
  • first of all → first
  • nowadays → currently, recently
  • whether or not → whether

Conversational discourse particles

These can generally be deleted.

  • Like: "It was like, extremely huge.
  • Okay
  • Uh, um

Comment clauses

These can generally be delted.

  • I think
  • You know

6 See also

  1. Easily confused verbs such as say, tell, talk
  2. Informal expressions for more examples and types of informal expressions.