for·​mal·​ism ˈfȯr-mə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce formalism (audio)
: the practice or the doctrine of strict adherence to prescribed or external forms (as in religion or art)
also : an instance of this
: marked attention to arrangement, style, or artistic means (as in art or literature) usually with corresponding de-emphasis of content
formalist noun or adjective
formalistic adjective

Examples of formalism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And Haynes’s inept formalism is a poor version of Losey-epigone Peter Strickland’s high-style irony. Armond White, National Review, 10 Jan. 2024 Like family feuds, squabbles among poets are too tedious to recount, but Wiman remembers being accused of commissioning too much prose, of privileging formalism over free verse, and of publishing vicious reviews and vacuous poetry. Casey Cep, The New Yorker, 4 Dec. 2023 But art thrives on contradictions, and the age-old tensions between faith and desire, between dogmatic formalism and wild, unruly feeling, were precisely what made Davies such a magnificently expressive artist. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 8 Oct. 2023 And running ribbon-like through the formalism is a familiar story: that of a girl, born to poor parents in a Norman town. Tobi Haslett, Harper's Magazine, 18 Sep. 2023 But disillusionment quickly set in: Mochizuki had spent 20 years single-handedly developing no fewer than 500 pages of a completely new formalism that other experts needed to decipher. Manon Bischoff, Scientific American, 28 July 2023 The film is also sort of a lush set piece; with the dad’s northern California winery aesthetic juxtaposed against the prim formalism of the mom’s London sitting rooms. Vogue, 17 July 2023 The justification for this austerity is a kind of cleansing formalism, which attempts to illuminate the medium’s kinship with more respectable forms of design. Julian Lucas, The New Yorker, 30 June 2023 There’s a stilted formalism to its aesthetic that feels as tightly wound up as its protagonist (and its lead actor), for better and for worse. Manuel Betancourt, Variety, 30 Mar. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'formalism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1839, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of formalism was in 1839

Dictionary Entries Near formalism

Cite this Entry

“Formalism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


for·​mal·​ism ˈfȯr-mə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce formalism (audio)
: the strict observance of forms or customs
formalist noun
formalistic adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on formalism

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