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What's the Difference Between Business English and Regular English?

What's the Difference Between Business English and Regular English?

It's common for English students to separate the language into two major categories: business English and regular English. Put another way, the English that is mostly used in professional situations, and the English people speak in their normal lives outside of work.

There isn't as big of a difference between the two as many students think. After all, the grammar and sentence structure are basically the same. However, there are some differences, mostly in word choice and expressions for particular situations. To help you understand how and when to use both, this article will look at each type in detail.

Summary of differences

Basically, using more informal language creates less of a separation between you and the person you are speaking with. Using formal phrases sounds unnatural when speaking to family or close friends, whether in person or through texts and emails.

Some languages, such as Japanese and Korean, have clear rules about levels of politeness when speaking to elders and people with a high rank. While English has both formal and informal ways to say things, the difference between them is much less strict compared to these other languages.

Characteristics of formal English

Businesspeople working together and communicating in formal English

Formal English basically has the following characteristics:

  • Fewer contractions
  • No slang
  • Polite expressions
  • Generally longer words and expressions

Characteristics of informal English

Informal English is characterized by the following things:

  • Many abbreviations and contractions
  • Usage of slang
  • Shorter, more casual expressions
  • More idioms
  • More backchanneling

Let's take a closer look at what separates these two types. 

Contractions and abbreviations

As we mentioned above, the use of contractions is a big difference between the two styles. Though very common in casual English, abbreviations are often avoided in more formal communication. In the list below, the informal contractions are on the left, and the more formal versions are on the right.

  • I'll > I will
  • we'll > we will
  • don't > do not
  • wanna > want to
  • gonna > going to
  • gotta > got to
  • hafta > have to

Actually, the first three examples on this list are usually OK even when speaking professionally. However, abbreviations such as "wanna" and "hafta" should definitely not be used in formal situations.

Common expressions

A man and woman high-fiving each other across a table while working together on a project

Using or not using slang and casual expressions is a big way to change your style of speech in English. Look at the different ways to greet someone in the following examples.

Formal: How are you?
Informal: What's up? / How's it going?

Similarly, there are various ways to respond to requests or to confirm information.

Formal: I see. / I understand. / Understood.
Informal: Got it. / Roger.*

*This expression comes from the US military, which uses special words to represent individual letters in radio communication. "Roger" represents the letter "R," which itself is short for "received," as in "Message received" or "I understand."

If you have to refuse an invitation or give someone bad news, you have these options:

Formal: I'm afraid that~ / I'm sorry, but~ / Unfortunately~
Informal: Sorry, but~

Politeness level

When making requests, the situation and person you are speaking to should determine which level you use. For example, "Can you~" is not bad in business situations, but "Would you~" is better.

Formal: Would it be possible for you to~? / Would you be able to~?
Informal: Can you~ ? / Could you~?

Next, let's look at ways to thank someone.

Formal: Thank you very much. / I appreciate it.
Informal: Thanks. / Cheers. (British English)

Adverbs and conjunctions

Listed below are regular adverbs and conjunctions on the left and their more formal versions on the right.

The regular words are not necessary to use for business; it is fine to use "so" and "but" whether you're communicating with close friends or with your boss. However, if you are writing a business document or an academic paper, the higher-level words can make your work sound more professional.

  • so > therefore
  • but > however
  • maybe > perhaps / possibly

There are many more words like this that have informal and formal versions.

a lot ofnumerous
canable to / capable of
come in / go inenter
leave outomit
look likeresemble
point outindicate
speak toaddress


Depending on the situation in which they are used, some words have completely different meanings. These words are called "homonyms."

Daily conversationBusiness
mitigaterelieve painreduce risks
quarter$0.25 (1/4 of a dollar)3 months (1/4 of a year)
conceivebecome pregnantthink of, get an idea
abstract[adjective] existing as an idea[noun] outline, summary

Sometimes meanings can also change depending on the type of industry a company is in, so it's a good idea to learn the specific words used in your business.


Writing numbers in letters is rare in everyday English. However, you can often see this in business English, especially on formal documents, contracts and checks. 

47,000,580 > forty-seven million five hundred eighty


As you can see, rather than totally different grammar and special terms, the differences between formal and casual English mostly come from small changes and careful word choices. So for readers who are wondering which one to study, you may need to change the way you think about it. 

Each industry will have unique words and expressions, but in general, there is no "business English," only English that is more polite. And since there will always be times when politeness is appropriate, it's important to learn the different ways you can express the same ideas. Learning both styles will prepare you to speak confidently no matter what situation you are in.

Adapted from an article written by Tamaki Saito