In the IELTS general writing test, you will have to write a letter. This might be a formal letter, a semi-formal letter, or an informal letter, and today we are going to look at informal letters for IELTS. I will show you some important information that you need to know to excel at this part of the test.

In this article, we are going to explore what informal language means and how you can write an informal letter for IELTS writing.

When to Write an Informal Letter

The first thing to know is that informal letters are a bit less common than formal ones for IELTS general writing. When you look through lists of example questions, you will notice that letters requiring an informal tone are a little uncommon. Mostly, you are asked to write to strangers, managers, and people like landlords, all of which require a formal tone.

Still, informal letters are important and you should ensure that you can write them before you go into the test. As such, we will now look at how you can recognise when an informal tone is necessary.

It is not difficult to recognise the type of letter that requires informal language because these are almost always written to friends and family. It is extremely unlikely that you would use such casual language with other people, and so you can confine it to prompts that specifically mention friends or other close acquaintances. It is theoretically possible that you could use informal language with a co-worker that you know very well, but anything related to work is more likely to fall into the categories of formal or semi-formal language.

Examples of Prompts Requiring Informal Letters

Pretty much any prompt that mentions the word “friend” requires an informal letter as a reply. This is an example:

You want to sell some of your furniture. You think a friend of yours might like to buy it from you.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

– explain why you are selling

– describe the furniture

– suggest a date when your friend can come and see the furniture

It is much less common, but you may also be asked to write to a family member. For example:

A family member is coming to stay with you. He/she will be arriving by train in the morning, but you won’t be home until the evening.

Write a letter to your relative. In your letter:

– explain the arrangements you have made for him/her to get keys

– tell your relative how to get from the train station to your house

– say when you will be home and suggest what you could do together that evening

Note that this does not necessarily require informal writing. If it is a cousin with whom you are very close, you may use very informal writing. However, if it were a distant aunt or uncle, you might use quite formal writing. Likewise, some relatives may require semi-formal language. It is not always obvious what to choose.

when to use informal language

What is Informal Language?

Informal language refers to normal, daily English that is used between friends. It is casual and often involves slang, contractions, idioms, or even broken grammar. The sort of common grammatical errors that native speakers make each day are what I call “lazy grammar.” You should aim to use proper grammar in IELTS, but there are some cases where “lazy grammar” is acceptable, and this is true of letters. For example:

  • Hope you’re doing fine.

Here, we have missed out the subject. This is a massive error in a formal sense, but in very informal language it is acceptable. However, you cannot just drop any subject. It is only really appropriate when the subject is very obvious. We do this often in informal writing because saying “I” repeatedly may be a bit strange. The verb “hope” is perhaps the most common example of one that does not require “I” because it is so obviously implied:

  • Hope you’re having a great time.
  • Hope your family’s doing well.

We also use it with “wish” and “looking”:

  • Wish you were here!
  • Looking forward to seeing you!

It is worth noting that there are various levels of informality. Here is another example of a sentence starting with “hope”:

  • Hope to hear from you soon.

We could make it even more informal by changing “you” to “ya” and adding an exclamation point:

  • Hope to hear from ya soon!

This is now extremely informal and only suitable for writing to close friends. Some people may argue that it is too informal for IELTS because “ya” isn’t even a real word. However, this sort of language is perfectly normal among people who know each other well and can be used in appropriate letters.

There is a good argument against going too informal in your IELTS test. Whilst slang is definitely a normal part of English, and should really be acceptable in letters to friends, there are many instances of students using modern slang and cultural references but receiving poor grades because their elderly examiner did not understand and assumed that the candidate was wrong. As such, you might want to temper the level of formality to avoid really obscure or brand-new slang. This could be said to apply to internet acronyms that may not be widely known.

informal vocabulary ielts letters

Vocabulary for Informal Letter Writing

There is no specific list of vocabulary for informal letter writing because every letter will require different sorts of language. For example, writing to a friend about a trip to the mountains will involve totally different vocabulary from a letter about a party or advice about a job. As such, you should always choose your language carefully after taking into consideration the level of formality and the topic of the letter.

However, there are definitely some words that could be used in different sorts of informal letters. Here are some of them:

Informal VersionFormal Version
Hey!Dear ____
SuperVery/really/terribly/greatly
Over the moonDelighted
I’m/ I’dI am/ I would
A bitA little

Format of Informal Letters

The format of an informal letter will generally be very similar to that of a formal or semi-formal letter, except because of the nature of it the structure might be a little looser. By this, I mean the paragraphs used might not have such a clear purpose and ideas might run together more like a conversation than a structured essay.

Still, it is important to have some sort of structure to your letter and to adhere to basic rules of cohesion; otherwise, your examiner may not be able to accurately ascertain whether you understand how to link ideas. As such, let your ideas flow logically from one to the next but without the sort of formal transitions that would mark a formal letter.

For example, a formal letter may say something like this:

  • I am writing to inform you of a major change that has taken place. Before I describe the change, I need to give you some background information. First of all, I was working at…

In a more informal context, we might instead say:

  • Just writing to let you know about a big change. What happened was that I was working…

There are various changes here in terms of language but let’s focus on the transitions. The formal writing because with a conventional structure (“I am writing to inform you”) whilst the informal one is much briefer and foregoes the usual cohesive devices. Indeed, the whole second sentence would probably be omitted in an informal letter because it functions as guiding language that is not really necessary between friends. As for phrases like “First of all,” these are probably going to be unnecessary unless we need to express something complicated and sequencing is necessary.

In addition, we can modify the greetings and sign-offs we use for informal letters. Rather than saying “Dear ___,” we can say “Hello __” or even “Hi ___.” Instead of using a person’s full name or title, we can switch to their first name. For signing off, we can avoid “Yours sincerely” and use something more casual, like “Thanks,” “Cheers,” “Talk later,” or even “Bye.” Again, there are a range of possibilities.

Sample Informal Letter #1

I will now give you some sample answers to the previously mentioned questions.

Prompt:

You want to sell some of your furniture. You think a friend of yours might like to buy it from you.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

– explain why you are selling

– describe the furniture

– suggest a date when your friend can come and see the furniture

Hi Caleb,

As you know, I’m moving to California in two weeks and I have decided that it’s just not feasible to take everything with me. I had thought I would hire a trailer and take all my furniture along, but it’s going to be too expensive and too much of a hassle, so instead I will just fly and bring what I can pack in two suitcases. My landlord will help me ship a couple of extra things.

I wonder if you’d like to buy a few things from me. I remember you saying last year that you were looking to spruce up your living room. Well, if you’re still interested in that, I have a couch, an armchair, and a few small side tables that might be up your alley. They’re all in good condition and I’d give you a great deal on them.

Let me know if this sounds good to you or else I’ll stick them on Craigslist and get rid of them that way. I’ll be free this coming weekend if you want to come by and take a look. Give me a call and let me know.

Best,

David

Notes

I have begun this letter with “Hi” and have used my friend’s first name. You can see that there are numerous contractions (“I’m”; “it’s”; “you’d” etc) and also I have omitted the subject in the last paragraph: “Let me know…” There are some more subtle examples of informal language with “come by” and my transitions, where used, are very informal “As you know” and “Well.” There are no typical cohesive devices like “However” and “Therefore.” I could have made it more informal by changing “Give me a call” to “Gimme a call” but you don’t always have to go with the least formal language.

Sample Informal Letter #2

Prompt:

A family member is coming to stay with you. He/she will be arriving by train in the morning, but you won’t be home until the evening.

Write a letter to your relative. In your letter:

– explain the arrangements you have made for him/her to get keys

– tell your relative how to get from the train station to your house

– say when you will be home and suggest what you could do together that evening

Hello Susan,

I was delighted to hear that you are coming to visit next week, but I have to let you know that I’ll be working until 7pm on the day you arrive, so unfortunately I won’t be able to pick you up at the train station.

Basically, the plan is now that you’ll take a taxi from the train station to my house. You can just hop in a cab right outside the main platform and tell them to go to “15 Bellamy Street.” The ride will take about ten minutes and will cost about twelve pounds.

At my house, you can find the keys in a lockbox on the porch. The combination is 3587. Just enter that and it’ll open, then you can get the keys and let yourself in. Please make yourself at home. There’s drinks and snacks in the fridge.

When I’m back we’ll go get some Indian food at a restaurant not too far away, then we can hit the pub for a few pints.

Looking forward to seeing you!

David

Notes

The first paragraph of this letter is perhaps erring on semi-formal because it is delivering what could be construed as bad news. As such, it sort of resides somewhere between formal and informal, but is closer to informal. After that, the tone becomes much more informal. The transitional word “Basically” is quite informal and there are casual phrases like “hop in a cab.” There are contractions (“you’ll”; “it’ll,” etc) and some “lazy grammar” when I said “There’s drinks and snacks…” The correct form should be “There are…” but sometimes we abbreviate in an incorrect way. Finally, the last line is missing the subject and ends in an exclamation point, which should never be used in formal writing.