[ fawr-muh-liz-uhm ]
See synonyms for: formalismformalisticformalist on

  1. strict adherence to, or observance of, prescribed or traditional forms, as in music, poetry, and art.

  2. Religion. strong attachment to external forms and observances.

  1. Ethics. a doctrine that acts are in themselves right or wrong regardless of consequences.

  2. Logic, Mathematics. a doctrine, which evolved from a proposal of David Hilbert, that mathematics, including the logic used in proofs, can be based on the formal manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.

Origin of formalism

First recorded in 1830–40; formal1 + -ism

Other words from formalism

  • for·mal·ist, noun, adjective
  • for·mal·is·tic, adjective
  • for·mal·is·ti·cal·ly, adverb
  • an·ti·for·mal·ist, noun, adjective
  • non·for·mal·ism, noun
  • non·for·mal·is·tic, adjective
  • un·for·mal·is·tic, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use formalism in a sentence

  • In a dry, formalistic way, Primrose asked: "My dear brother, are you prepared for the great change!"

    Letters of Peregrine Pickle | George P. Upton

British Dictionary definitions for formalism


/ (ˈfɔːməˌlɪzəm) /

  1. scrupulous or excessive adherence to outward form at the expense of inner reality or content

    • the mathematical or logical structure of a scientific argument as distinguished from its subject matter

    • the notation, and its structure, in which information is expressed

  1. theatre a stylized mode of production

  2. (in Marxist criticism) excessive concern with artistic technique at the expense of social values, etc

  3. the philosophical theory that a mathematical statement has no meaning but that its symbols, regarded as physical objects, exhibit a structure that has useful applications: Compare logicism, intuitionism

Derived forms of formalism

  • formalist, noun
  • formalistic, adjective
  • formalistically, adverb

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