Synonyms & Antonyms of formal

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 following or agreeing with established form, custom, or rules
  • a formal meeting of the board of directors
  • a formal contract that was legally binding

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2 being something in name or form only
  • was the formal head of the charitable organization though he never attended a single meeting

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3 marked by or showing careful attention to set forms and details
  • gave her a formal invitation to dinner

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4 relating to or suitable for wearing to an event requiring elegant dress and manners
  • the dress code is formal for tonight's event
  • a shop that rents out formal wear

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Synonyms of formal (Entry 2 of 2)

a social gathering for dancing
  • he asked her to the formal at the end of the year

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Frequently Asked Questions About formal

How is the word formal distinct from other similar adjectives?

Some common synonyms of formal are ceremonial, ceremonious, and conventional. While all these words mean "marked by attention to or adhering strictly to prescribed forms," 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

How do ceremonial and ceremonious relate to one another, in the sense of formal?

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

When is ceremonious a more appropriate choice than formal?

While in some cases nearly identical to formal, ceremonious applies to persons given to ceremony or to acts attended by ceremony.

made his ceremonious entrance

When would conventional be a good substitute for formal?

In some situations, the words conventional and formal are roughly equivalent. However, conventional implies accord with general custom and usage and may suggest a stodgy lack of originality or independence.

conventional courtesy

conventional fiction

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

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Cite this Entry

“Formal.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More from Merriam-Webster on formal

Nglish: Translation of formal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of formal for Arabic Speakers


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