for·​mal·​i·​ty | \ fȯr-ˈma-lə-tē \
plural formalities

Definition of formality

1 : compliance with formal or conventional rules : ceremony
2 : the quality or state of being formal
3 : an established form or procedure that is required or conventional the interview was just a formality

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Did You Know?

Formal behavior follows the proper forms or customs, and informal behavior feels free to ignore them. The formality of a dinner party is indicated by such formalities as invitations, required dress, and full table settings. Legal formalities, or technicalities, may turn out to be all-important even if they often seem minor. America requires fewer formalities than many other countries (in Germany, for example, you may know someone for years before using his or her first name), but even in relaxed situations Americans may be observing invisible formalities.

Examples of formality in a Sentence

Her use of old-fashioned language lends an air of formality to her writing. He failed to appreciate the formality of the occasion. They haven't approved the loan yet, but that's just a mere formality.
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Recent Examples on the Web

McCartney's design aesthetic has a clean, simple feel–which is no doubt what attracted Markle to her work–but formality is not her go-to. Carrie Goldberg, Harper's BAZAAR, "All the Details of Eugenie's Second Wedding Dress–Compared to Meghan Markle's," 14 Oct. 2018 In some cases, the actual summit meeting and leaders' signatures on a piece of paper or a joint communique are mere formalities as the hard work has already been done by subordinates. Matthew Lee, Fox News, "What did Trump and Putin talk about? Only they know," 20 July 2018 Their 4-1 loss to the Jets was a mere formality for both clubs, the Hawks with one last obligation to cross off their calendar, and the Jets enjoying a final tuneup before their Western Conference playoff series against the Wild. Rich Campbell,, "Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to Jets begins offseason turnaround effort," 8 Apr. 2018 Some shunned the formality of Saudi Arabia’s high-profile investment conference but pursued informal gatherings instead. Justin Scheck, WSJ, "Investors Fret Over Khashoggi Killing but Still Maintain Saudi Ties," 26 Dec. 2018 Though non-binding, the formality gives a window of opportunity for a judge to reverse an initial sentence. Fox News, "Egypt court sentences 75 to death over 2013 sit-in," 28 July 2018 While there is no official rule outlawing the clasp, there are situations — depending on the formality of the event — in which it can be perceived as a no-no, as former royal butler Grant Harrold previously explained to TIME. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Held Hands Like a Regular Couple at This Royal Event," 6 July 2018 An exploratory committee usually is a formality before a candidate launches a presidential campaign. Paul J. Weber, The Seattle Times, "APNewsBreak: Julian Castro moves toward 2020 White House run," 12 Dec. 2018 Tuesday’s primary elections are mostly a formality, though there is a large GOP field. Dylan Scott, Vox, "2018’s most fascinating governor’s election, explained," 20 Aug. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'formality.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of formality

1597, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for formality

Last Updated

17 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for formality

The first known use of formality was in 1597

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More Definitions for formality



English Language Learners Definition of formality

: a formal quality

: something that is required or usual but that has little true meaning or importance

: a formal part, activity, etc.


for·​mal·​i·​ty | \ fȯr-ˈma-lə-tē \
plural formalities

Kids Definition of formality

1 : the quality or state of being formal the formality of the occasion
2 : an established way of doing something wedding formalities

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Comments on formality

What made you want to look up formality? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a complex dispute or argument

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