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Difference between colloquialism and slang

It regularly comes to attention that people commonly use the words colloquialism and slang as synonyms, unwittingly taking them to mean the same thing. The similarity is that both are spoken forms of the language, and both use informal vocabulary. It is important to keep in mind that they are two distinct forms of language with differences in a variety of aspects related to usage. 

So what is colloquial language? It refers to the informal use of language consisting of words, phrases and aphorisms used by common people. See it as a form of everyday use of language, commonplace parlance in other words, which is more appropriate in the conversational form or the speech form.

It’s important to keep in mind that colloquial language is more formal than slang as it does not come across as offensive as the latter.

Take a look at these examples of colloquialisms:

I am pretty confident you have heard such language if you’ve already been in the presence of native speakers. Perhaps at times wondering what they were actually saying and feeling left out.

Let’s take a closer look at slang now. This refers to a very informal type of language usually spoken rather than written, and commonly used in specific social groups such as soldiers, teenagers, professions and those who know each other well.

Slang is more casual than colloquialisms and since it consists of very informal words, if it is used on people who do not use that type of language, it can be construed as offensive. Note that slang evolves quickly as words are created by users; some words and expressions can disappear from the language as fast as new ones appear making it hard to keep up.

Here are a couple examples of slang:

So in a nutshell, both colloquialism and slang are spoken forms of the language. Both use informal words and expressions. Slang is more informal than colloquial language. Slang is predominantly used by certain groups of people while colloquial language is used in every day speech by ordinary people.

As if you didn’t already have enough to learn while trying to master the art of speaking English, you’ll probably need to learn to use or at least understand some colloquialisms and slang… You will hear them all around you in every day communication and when you are conversing with natives… you might not learn these as part of an English course, but you can certainly find plenty of information online. Personally I find that colloquialism enhances the language and that slang just waters it down… 

Here are some of the most common terms used in informal conversation in the UK to start you off:

Got it? Put it into practice without further ado!

Melanie Hall – Educational Manager