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Informal & Formal Vocabulary for IELTS

The informal words below are best avoided in Academic IELTS. The neutral words are ‘fine’ for the Speaking module, but you really should learn the formal equivalents if you want to score highly in the Academic Writing module.


Informal (Avoid) Neutral (Spoken) Formal (Written)
Stuff Things Items, Possessions
Folks Family Relatives
Kids (younger) Babies, Children Infants, Offspring
Kids (older) Teenagers Adolescents, Youths
Guy Man Male
Old people Elderly people Senior citizens, Retirees
- Boss, Manager Supervisor, Superior
Cops Police Law enforcement
Crooks Criminals Offenders, Lawbreakers
OK, Alright Fine Acceptable, Satisfactory
Great, Awesome Good Preferable, Desirable
Rubbish, Useless Bad, Poor Unsatisfactory, Unacceptable
- Nice, Polite Considerate, Agreeable
- Kind, Friendly Sociable, Neighbourly
Nasty, Cheeky (person) Rude, Impolite Abusive, Disagreeable
Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (idea) - Misguided, Questionable
Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (person) - Misguided, Mistaken
- Happy (person) Satisfied, Delighted
- Happy (situation) Satisfying, Delightful
- Sad (person) Regretful, Distressed
- Sad (situation) Regrettable, Distressing
Sick of, Fed up with Tired of Dissatisfied with
- Poor (country) Developing, Poverty-stricken
- Poor (person) In poverty, Underprivileged
- Rich (country) Wealthy, Developed
- Rich (person) Wealthy, Privileged

Contractions such as don’t are fine in IELTS Speaking but it is better to use do not in the Academic Writing module. Casual forms such as gonna and dunno should only ever be used in the Speaking test and NEVER in Writing.