Definition of formal in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈfɔːm(ə)l/


1Done in accordance with convention or etiquette; suitable for or constituting an official or important occasion: a formal dinner party
More example sentences
  • He nudged her playfully and she launched into a cutesy story about how his hair is always sticking up and she can't get him to dress appropriately for formal occasions.
  • You would think that after all these years of preparation, I'd be able to at least dress myself appropriately for formal occasions, right?
  • We had decided, a couple of weeks ago, to make the night a formal dress occasion - as it's normally more fun if you've made a bit of an effort.
ceremonial, ceremonious, ritualistic, ritual, conventional, traditional, orthodox, prescribed, fixed, set;
stately, courtly, solemn, dignified;
elaborate, ornate, dressy
1.1(Of a person or their manner) strictly conventional: he is formal in manner and clothing
More example sentences
  • And if I ever see him in passing, I'll treat him in a strictly formal manner.
  • Whoever said that Germans were a formal people?
  • When I go to a meeting, I have to decide ahead of time what to bring, and I'm never sure about the weather or how formal people will be.
aloof, reserved, remote, detached, unapproachable, stand-offish, keeping people at arm's length;
stiff, prim, stuffy, staid, ceremonious, correct, proper, decorous, conventional, precise, exact, punctilious, unbending, inflexible, strait-laced;
unresponsive, unfriendly, unsympathetic, haughty, forbidding, austere;
withdrawn, restrained, reticent, taciturn, uncommunicative, undemonstrative, unforthcoming;
unsocial, antisocial
1.2Having a conventionally recognized form, structure, or set of rules: he had little formal education
More example sentences
  • Increasingly, however, companies are demanding some kind of formal education in interior design, whether it's an evening class programme or a three year degree.
  • Western schooling crowds out other forms of formal education like initiation rituals that were designed to bring an entire age group to the same level rather than to weed out students.
  • Have you ever had any formal education in design or new media?
symmetrical, regular, orderly, arranged, methodical, systematic, in straight lines, regimented
conventional, mainstream, rigid;
school, institutional
1.3Of or denoting a style of writing or public speaking characterized by more elaborate grammatical structures and more conservative and technical vocabulary.
Example sentences
  • The writing is pathetic, but there is simply nothing wrong with its grammar or the formal aspects of its style.
  • Her writing style was more formal than that of her peers.
  • Such writings were highly formal exercises in style and rhetoric, often delighting in dialectically arguing for and against a particular topic.
literary, scholarly, learned, intellectual, erudite, bookish, highbrow, academic, cultivated
2Officially sanctioned or recognized: a formal complaint
More example sentences
  • But her acting and, of course, dancing talents have actually not got her the deserving formal recognition in the name of awards.
  • We want credentials and acknowledgement in some officially recognized, formal way for the work we have invented.
  • He said that the audits were not documented because no formal complaint was brought against her.
official, legal, authorized, approved, validated, certified, endorsed, documented, sanctioned, licensed, recognized, authoritative, accepted, verified, legitimate, lawful, valid, bona fide, proper, prescribed, pro forma
3Of or concerned with outward form or appearance as distinct from content: I don’t know enough about art to appreciate the purely formal qualities
More example sentences
  • There are no distinct actors to give it formal content.
  • These sketches stick in the mind not just because of their content but because of their formal qualities.
  • It was copied by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Sandrart, all of whom responded to the painting as an image of the noble virtuoso as well as to its formal distinction.
3.1Having the form or appearance without the spirit: the committee stage would be purely formal
More example sentences
  • Courtesy is the formal manifestation of the spirit of respect.
  • Genuine democracy presupposes that broad layers of the population can satisfy their elementary interests not only in a formal sense but in real life.
  • He claims that society must ensure both formal and real freedom.
3.2Relating to linguistic or logical form as opposed to function or meaning.
Example sentences
  • In the logical formal mode, proof is provided in linearly connected sentences composed of words that are carefully selected to convey unambiguous meaning.
  • In fact, the viewer should be able to inspect a visual representation and a traditional logical formal proof with the same rigor.
  • A mathematical proof is a formal and logical line of reasoning that begins with a set of axioms and moves through logical steps to a conclusion.


North American
1An evening dress: cocktail parties every night so the ladies can show off their formals
More example sentences
  • She would do her hair up for fun sometimes, and trot around her apartment in evening formals for no reason at all.
  • It was Louis dressed in his formals and looking amazingly handsome.
  • Inside the elevator we were joined by two older ladies dressed in long formals.
1.1An occasion on which evening dress is worn: the college will be hosting their annual formal on February 6
More example sentences
  • The Bosco Drama Group will also be holding a Summer School daily for two weeks during August and are also in the process of organising their annual formal which is planned for early October.
  • It seems the only things going on there anymore are Thursday night residence parties and high school formals.
  • Any parent who has a child in the latter years of high school is only too familiar with formals.


Late Middle English: from Latin formalis, from forma 'shape, mould' (see form).

Words that rhyme with formal

abnormal, conformal, normal, paranormal, subnormal

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: for¦mal

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