[fawr-muh l]
See more synonyms for formal on
  1. being in accordance with the usual requirements, customs, etc.; conventional: to pay one's formal respects.
  2. marked by form or ceremony: a formal occasion.
  3. designed for wear or use at occasions or events marked by elaborate ceremony or prescribed social observance: The formal attire included tuxedos and full-length gowns.
  4. requiring a type of dress suitable for such occasions: a formal dance.
  5. observant of conventional requirements of behavior, procedure, etc., as persons; ceremonious.
  6. excessively ceremonious: a manner that was formal and austere.
  7. being a matter of form only; perfunctory: We expected more than just formal courtesy.
  8. made or done in accordance with procedures that ensure validity: a formal authorization.
  9. of, relating to, or emphasizing the organization or composition of the constituent elements in a work of art perceived separately from its subject matter: a formal approach to painting; the formal structure of a poem.
  10. being in accordance with prescribed or customary forms: a formal siege.
  11. Theater. (of a stage setting) generalized and simplified in design, especially of architectural elements, and serving as a permanent set for a play irrespective of changes in location.
  12. acquired in school; academic: He had little formal training in economics.
  13. symmetrical or highly organized: a formal garden.
  14. of, reflecting, or noting a usage of language in which syntax, pronunciation, etc., adhere to traditional standards of correctness and usage is characterized by the absence of casual, contracted, and colloquial forms: The paper was written in formal English.
  15. Philosophy.
    1. pertaining to form.
    2. Aristotelianism.not material; essential.
  16. Logic. formal logic.
  17. pertaining to the form, shape, or mode of a thing, especially as distinguished from the substance: formal writing, bereft of all personality.
  18. being such merely in appearance or name; nominal: a formal head of the government having no actual powers.
  19. Mathematics.
    1. (of a proof) in strict logical form with a justification for every step.
    2. (of a calculation) correct in form; made with strict justification for every step.
    3. (of a calculation, derivation, representation, or the like) of or relating to manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.
  1. a dance, ball, or other social occasion that requires formalwear.
  2. an evening gown.
  1. 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

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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. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for formalness


  1. of, according to, or following established or prescribed forms, conventions, etca formal document
  2. characterized by observation of conventional forms of ceremony, behaviour, dress, etca formal dinner
  3. methodical, precise, or stiff
  4. suitable for occasions organized according to conventional ceremonyformal dress
  5. denoting or characterized by idiom, vocabulary, etc, used by educated speakers and writers of a language
  6. acquired by study in academic institutionsa formal education
  7. regular or symmetrical in forma formal garden
  8. of or relating to the appearance, form, etc, of something as distinguished from its substance
  9. logically deductiveformal proof
  10. philosophy
    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
  11. 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


  1. 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 formalness



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