formal

1 of 3

adjective (1)

for·​mal ˈfȯr-məl How to pronounce formal (audio)
1
a
: belonging to or constituting the form or essence of a thing
formal cause
b
: relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationships, or arrangement of elements rather than content
formal logic
a formal style of painting
a formal approach to comparative linguistics
2
a
: following or according with established form, custom, or rule
lacked formal schooling
a formal dinner party
formal attire
b
: done in due or lawful form
a formal contract
received formal recognition
3
a
: characterized by punctilious respect for form : methodical
very formal in all his dealings
b
: rigidly ceremonious : prim
the ambience was overly formal, everyone but me was wearing a suit and tie James Suckling
4
: having the appearance without the substance
formal Christians who go to church only at Easter
formally adverb
formalness noun

formal

2 of 3

noun

: something (such as a dance or a dress) formal in character

formal

3 of 3

adjective (2)

Choose the Right Synonym for formal

ceremonial, ceremonious, formal, conventional mean marked by attention to or adhering strictly to prescribed forms.

ceremonial and ceremonious both imply strict attention to what is prescribed by custom or by ritual, but ceremonial applies to things that are associated with ceremonies

a ceremonial offering

, ceremonious to persons given to ceremony or to acts attended by ceremony.

made his ceremonious entrance

formal applies both to things prescribed by and to persons obedient to custom and may suggest stiff, restrained, or old-fashioned behavior.

a formal report
the headmaster's formal manner

conventional implies accord with general custom and usage

conventional courtesy

and may suggest a stodgy lack of originality or independence.

conventional fiction

Example Sentences

Noun he asked her to the formal at the end of the year

Word History

Etymology

Adjective (1) and Noun

Middle English, from Latin formalis, from forma

Adjective (2)

formula + -al entry 1

First Known Use

Adjective (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Noun

1605, in the meaning defined above

Adjective (2)

circa 1934, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of formal was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near formal

Cite this Entry

“Formal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/formal. Accessed 30 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

formal 1 of 2

adjective

for·​mal ˈfȯr-məl How to pronounce formal (audio)
1
: of, relating to, or being the form of something rather than content
2
a
: following or agreeing with established form, custom, or rule
a formal education
b
: relating to, suitable for, or being an event requiring elegant dress and manners
a formal ball
formal dress
3
: done in due or lawful form
a formal contract
formally adverb
formalness noun

formal

2 of 2

noun

: something (as a dance) formal in nature

Legal Definition

formal

adjective

for·​mal
1
: relating to or involving outward form, structure, or arrangement rather than content
a formal defect in the pleadings
2
: requiring special or established solemnities or formalities especially in order to be effective or valid under the law
received formal notice
a formal criminal charge
3
: being such only as a matter of form : nominal
a formal party to a lawsuit

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