adjective (1)
for·​mal | \ ˈfȯr-məl How to pronounce formal (audio) \

Definition of formal

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : 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
2a : 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
3a : 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



Definition of formal (Entry 2 of 3)

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


adjective (2)

Definition of formal (Entry 3 of 3)

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from formal

Adjective (1)

formally \ ˈfȯr-​mə-​lē How to pronounce formal (audio) \ adverb
formalness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for formal

Synonyms: Adjective (1)

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective (1)

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for formal

Adjective (1)

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

Examples of formal in a Sentence

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

First Known Use of formal

Adjective (1)

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


1605, in the meaning defined above

Adjective (2)

circa 1934, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for formal

Adjective (1) and Noun

Middle English, from Latin formalis, from forma

Adjective (2)

formula + -al entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About formal

Time Traveler for formal

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near formal



formal cause

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for formal

Cite this Entry

“Formal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for formal



English Language Learners Definition of formal

: a social gathering (such as a dance) that requires formal dress and manners : a formal event


for·​mal | \ ˈfȯr-məl How to pronounce formal (audio) \

Kids Definition of formal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : following established form, custom, or rule She wrote a formal apology.
2 : acquired by attending classes in a school a formal education
3 : requiring proper clothing and manners a formal dance
4 : suitable for a proper occasion formal attire

Other Words from formal

formally adverb



Kids Definition of formal (Entry 2 of 2)

: a social gathering that requires proper clothing and behavior



Legal Definition of formal

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

More from Merriam-Webster on formal

Nglish: Translation of formal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of formal for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!