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Is 'Heads Up' Too Informal?

Is 'Heads Up' Too Informal?
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Each week we answer questions about American English from readers from outside the United States. But today we answer a question from the American state of Alabama. Khan writes:


Could you tell me what else I can use instead of “heads up”? That term is considered informal; therefore, I would like to know the formal word for “heads up.”


Khan, Alabama


Dear Khan,

Thank you for writing. Let us look closely at this expression and other ways to say it.

Meaning of ‘heads up’

As you said, the term “heads up” is informal. However, it is so common in American English that we use it in almost every situation.

“Heads up” can be used as a noun. It sends a message that says something is going to happen. Here is an example:

She gave him a heads up that the company's president would be visiting the office.

Also, you can ask for a “heads up” by asking someone to report when they are in the process of doing something.

Can you give me a heads up about how much time you will need for that project?

You might also hear someone say, “Thanks for the heads up!” This means, “Thanks for letting me know!”

Other ways to say ‘heads up’

It is worth noting that “heads up” is a common expression Americans use with friends, family, coworkers and even in business meetings. But there are other ways to express the idea. One word you can use in place of "heads up" is “warn:”

She warned him that the company's president would be visiting the office.

Another way to express the idea is with the word “let” when you want to give or get information:

Please let me know how much time you will need for that project.

Imagine that your company is moving to a new office and your supervisor is sending you an email. The message could “make you aware” of something or “draw your attention” to something, as we hear in these examples:

I want to make you aware that we are moving our office.

I wanted to draw your attention to the move of our office.

Khan, I hope that helps to answer your question about "heads up."

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week.

What questions do you have about American English? Send us an email at

I’m Jill Robbins.

Gregory Stachel and Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

informal - adj. (of language.) relaxed in tone or not suited for serious or official speech and writing

aware - adj. knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists

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