[fawr-muh l]



a dance, ball, or other social occasion that requires formalwear.
an evening gown.


in formal attire: We're supposed to go formal.

Origin of formal

1350–1400; Middle English formal, formel < Latin fōrmālis. See form, -al1
Related formsfor·mal·ness, noun

Synonyms for formal

2. Formal, academic, conventional may have either favorable or unfavorable implications. Formal may mean in proper form, or may imply excessive emphasis on empty form. In the favorable sense, academic applies to scholars or higher institutions of learning; it may, however, imply slavish conformance to mere rules, or to belief in impractical theories. Conventional, in a favorable sense, applies to desirable conformity with accepted conventions or customs; but it more often is applied to arbitrary, forced, or meaningless conformity. 5. conforming, conformist. 6. punctilious. 8. official.



noun Chemistry.

Origin of formal

First recorded in 1895–1900; from formaldehyde Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for formal

Contemporary Examples of formal

Historical Examples of formal

  • Yet the superscription is of his dictating, I dare say, for he is a formal wretch.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • Again, the girl made her formal response in the affirmative, then left the room.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • It is not a thing for which one can render formal thanks in formal words.

    De Profundis

    Oscar Wilde

  • The tone was formal, and put Payne ten thousand leagues away from her.

  • He had known Jack's governor for years, and so a too formal introduction was unnecessary.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

British Dictionary definitions for formal




of, according to, or following established or prescribed forms, conventions, etca formal document
characterized by observation of conventional forms of ceremony, behaviour, dress, etca formal dinner
methodical, precise, or stiff
suitable for occasions organized according to conventional ceremonyformal dress
denoting or characterized by idiom, vocabulary, etc, used by educated speakers and writers of a language
acquired by study in academic institutionsa formal education
regular or symmetrical in forma formal garden
of or relating to the appearance, form, etc, of something as distinguished from its substance
logically deductiveformal proof
  1. of or relating to form as opposed to matter or content
  2. pertaining to the essence or nature of somethingformal cause
  3. (in the writings of Descartes) pertaining to the correspondence between an image or idea and its object
  4. being in the formal mode
denoting a second-person pronoun in some languages used when the addressee is a stranger, social superior, etcin French the pronoun ``vous'' is formal, while ``tu'' is informal
Derived Formsformally, adverbformalness, noun

Word Origin for formal

C14: from Latin formālis




another name for methylal

Word Origin for formal

C19: from form (ic) + -al ³
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for formal

late 14c., from Old French formel (13c.) and directly from Latin formalis, from forma (see form (n.)). As a noun, c.1600 (plural) "things that are formal;" as a short way to say formal dance, recorded by 1906, U.S. college students.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper