English Vocabulary For Parties And Social Occasions

Here’s some useful vocabulary if you’re organising an office party or a party at your house for Christmas, New Year, or another special event.

Does your party have a theme?

Will you ask people to come in fancy-dress? (For example, there are Halloween-themed events at Halloween.) What sort of costume do you want people to dress in? Is it a period look (“Swinging 60s”) or another type of look (Hollywood) for example?

Decorations add to the party atmosphere. If you’re planning a theme, decorations are easier to think about. Otherwise, get busy with the coloured paper, sellotape, and scissors!

How big is the party?

Do you need to organise outside caterers, or entertainers? (This is especially useful for children’s parties, where you might get a special children’s entertainer like a magician.) Do you need to hire someone to run a disco, or can someone from Accounts rig up some speakers for music?

Many office parties are limited just to people from the office, but you might also invite employees’ partners, or even customers or clients.

What are you going to write on the invitation?

Formal invitations:

We’d be delighted if you could attend our party on.. (date) at… (place) at… (time)

Moss Bros would like to invite
…… (plus one guest)
to the firm’s annual dinner dance, to be held at (etc)

Informal invitations:

You’re all cordially invited to attend the annual Moss Bros party.

Please come to our party / lunch / dinner on… (date) at… (time).

Don’t forget to add any essential instructions, such as directions (= how to get to your house / office) or to ask people to bring something (Please bring a bottle) or on what to wear / do (i.e. if you’re holding something like a Murder Mystery evening where guests need to wear a costume and perform a role.)

What’s going to happen at the party

Is it a place for people to meet each other, have a bite to eat, and a couple of glasses of something to drink? Will you have special games or competitions that encourage people to stay longer? Will you give out presents (like a secret Santa?)

With all the catering, decorations, invitations etc to think about, you might need a team of people to help you. Delegate responsibility and make people in charge of catering, invitations, etc.

Types of social occasions

The two or three-week period over Christmas and New Year is often a time when people socialise – either going out, or entertaining guests at home. Some social occasions are formal, while others are informal parties for family or friends. Here are the names for some common social occasions:

carol concert = a Christmas occasion where people often go to church to hear carols sung. Carols are religious songs on the theme of Christmas.

school play = a play where school children play the roles. A nativity play tells the story of the birth of Jesus.

office party = an evening or afternoon party organised by your place of work. It could include lunch, or drinks, or a “secret santa” where each employee anonymously buys a present for another employee.

family gathering = when family members meet for lunch, dinner, or the whole day.

cocktail party = a party in the early evening, where people dress quite formally for drinks.

informal drinks = an informal party at your house where you serve drinks and snacks.

a drink-up = a party in a pub organised by your colleagues or friends.

pub quiz night = when a group of friends go to the pub to take part in a quiz. They organise themselves into teams, and try to get the most answers right to win a prize.

fundraising event / charity do = “do” is a more informal way of saying “event”. At these events, the aim is to raise money for a worthwhile cause. Often they involve a formal dinner, well-known speakers, or a raffle / auction (where people bid to buy an object.)

fancy-dress party = a party where everyone wears a costume on a particular theme.

a ball = a formal evening occasion where people dance. For example, a fancy-dress ball is a more formal equivalent to a fancy-dress party.

bingo = where people buy a card with numbers on it, then listen to an announcer reading out numbers. If you hear your numbers, you call “Bingo!” and win a money prize.

dinner dance = an old-fashioned, quite formal occasion, where couples eat dinner, then dance waltzes etc.

Next page: Don’t miss our special idioms page on Party Idioms!