Definition of formal in English:



  • 1Done in accordance with convention or etiquette; suitable for or constituting an official or important occasion.

    ‘a formal dinner party’
    • ‘Taking the place of the wrestler, the artist meditates with eyes closed, dressed in the traditional clothing Japanese men wear for formal occasions.’
    • ‘Food servers appeared dressed in white uniforms for the formal occasion.’
    • ‘Moving onto more formal occasions, we have these two dresses that are ready for both work and party.’
    • ‘If you need formal wear for several occasions, be sure to pack it properly to avoid wrinkles.’
    • ‘Mark mentally brushed up on the formal dinner etiquette he had learned at the various classes his parents had forced him to go to.’
    • ‘While dinner etiquette was never formal, a firm routine had been established for following dinner.’
    • ‘Most designs are suitable for formal occasions as well as informal outings and parties.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Casual wear has replaced formal clothes for most occasions.’
    • ‘I just feel that this is one of those formal occasions that gets big headlines because it's a formal occasion and not because it really matters.’
    • ‘Also, don't forget to dress accordingly for a formal interview.’
    • ‘Everyone looked so well and the formal dress made this special occasion a night to remember.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Why not Nashville or Memphis or better yet, some place where fringe doesn't constitute formal wear?’
    • ‘The tunic has been a common element since the early 19th century, but while still worn on formal occasions and by senior officers, it has been phased out over the past decade.’
    • ‘The next stage was to have short curly hair kept back off the face as in the photo of Josie and a friend dressed for a formal occasion.’
    • ‘In short, the system may have been appropriate for state banquets and other formal occasions, when making an impression of wealth and power was the purpose, but it was inappropriate for other purposes.’
    • ‘There were about 20 of them, including some very small children, a few women, but mostly men, and they were all dressed as if for a formal occasion.’
    • ‘But formal occasions begin and end with the national anthem.’
    ceremonial, ceremonious, ritualistic, ritual, conventional, traditional, orthodox, prescribed, fixed, set
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 (of a person or their manner) strictly conventional.
      ‘he is formal in manner and clothing’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘He was more formal, stuck to facts and figures, for the most part, as is his habit, but they're important facts and figures.’
      • ‘They're quite formal and arch so they go against my grain.’
      • ‘They were excessively formal when speaking to each other, they spent no more time than they had to with each other, and even seemed to have staked out territories in and around the palace.’
      • ‘A ponderous and formal man, he succeeded Walpole as first minister in 1742, but old, unwell, and with little taste for leadership, he merely presided for a year until his death.’
      • ‘For all the mystery surrounding him, he had a very formal personality, especially in the presence of his colleagues and superiors.’
      • ‘How did a formal woman end up with her for a daughter?’
      • ‘An austere and formal man, his affection for his wife and seven living children (three died in childbirth and one drowned at the age of 10) was minimal.’
      • ‘Even if someone was formal with him, they would have to be familiar with biochemical jargon and terminology, or Edward would act condescendingly to them.’
      • ‘Don't tell me I'm not formal enough for whatever this is.’
      • ‘In my experience as an architect, a house in which every space is designed for everyday living is far more satisfying than one with unused formal spaces for formal guests who never show up.’
      • ‘But he was obsessively formal and had about as much liveliness as a salted cod, and Bahzell simply couldn't warm to him as he had to Charrow or Sir Terrian.’
      • ‘We were very formal with each other but it got to the stage where I even took my dad round to see her.’
      • ‘I am a moderately formal person who works as an art educator, and I am a Virgo.’
      • ‘I had to laugh, he was so formal, but I took the arm he offered.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Even the closest personal relationships with men were more formal and task-oriented than those with women, and proceeded along hierarchical lines.’
      • ‘Now he was formal and unreadable, the commander, once more.’
      • ‘They are greeted in a traditional and formal manner by the people of Parihaka.’
      aloof, reserved, remote, detached, unapproachable, stand-offish, keeping people at arm's length
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Of or denoting a style of writing or public speaking characterized by more elaborate grammatical structures and more conservative and technical vocabulary.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Other corpora, such as the North American News Text Corpus, are bigger, but contain only formal writing and speech.’
      • ‘I haven't had time to look at any other Roosevelt speeches to see if this was a consistent property of his formal style.’
      • ‘Authors Courter and Marquis wrote the book using a fairly friendly and slightly formal style.’
      • ‘In fact, in the context of American journalism, they are seen as using a formal, conservative, and prestigious style.’
      • ‘It was written by her husband, yet its style was rigidly formal, consistently using her surname alone.’
      • ‘The writing is pathetic, but there is simply nothing wrong with its grammar or the formal aspects of its style.’
      • ‘Eventually she achieved an almost purely formal vocabulary using elements drawn from everyday life.’
      • ‘This is why communities of practice adopt formal vocabularies, so that ambiguity can be reduced and clarity improved.’
      • ‘Filipinos generally speak the way they write, in a formal style based on Victorian prose models.’
      • ‘The latter is normal Standard English, acceptable either spoken or written, in either informal or formal style.’
      • ‘Here are a few of the letters, interesting to modern readers for their content and the formal style of writing.’
      • ‘This makes the diction simple and easy to understand with humorous differences between this writing style and other more formal ones.’
      • ‘The techniques, formal vocabulary and imagination that this book highlights leave us eager to learn much more.’
      • ‘New variants often appear first in casual speech, while older ones remain in more emphatic formal styles.’
      • ‘But I don't think so: I think he just thinks it's a more archaic, formal or quaint style of speaking than we use nowadays.’
      • ‘You have a definite formal vocabulary that you carry from film to film.’
      • ‘The highlighted words and phrases are ones that will not be used in formal writing and they even contain grammar mistakes.’
      • ‘The major changes were from features of spoken English to those more typical of formal writing, both in surface detail and in more fundamental characteristics.’
      literary, scholarly, learned, intellectual, erudite, bookish, highbrow, academic, cultivated
      View synonyms
  • 2Officially sanctioned or recognized.

    ‘a formal complaint’
    • ‘Even if they gave birth, they were not thought of as members of the formal family - their status was just a little higher than that of the maids.’
    • ‘Poor communication and failure to take account of the patient's perspective are at the heart of most formal complaints and legal actions.’
    • ‘Of course wars still took place, but most often without the formal sanction of the UN Security Council.’
    • ‘For years, these students were permitted to study without a formal student visa, which requires full-time study and proof of financial assets.’
    • ‘Although the early revision cases were not suitable for formal testing, they were recorded as treatment failures and included as poor results.’
    • ‘A person could only enter the premises by becoming a formal member of the club.’
    • ‘However, as professional and amateur historians we could very much utilize a formal definition of what constitutes an orphaned work.’
    • ‘He liked singing and dancing with the primary school art group but he was not a formal member.’
    • ‘AIB said it could not comment on individual cases, but added that all loans were sanctioned via formal written documentation.’
    • ‘The Internet and the World Wide Web have provided cultural studies a clear shift towards a production ethos that has altered the formal boundaries of what constitutes production.’
    • ‘The provision of employment for inmates by the Department does not constitute a formal employment relationship.’
    • ‘He said that the audits were not documented because no formal complaint was brought against her.’
    • ‘He said he plans to lodge a formal complaint with the legal department of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.’
    • ‘But how could the simple formal recognition of property be the solution for the development of Third World and former communist nations?’
    • ‘That is issued pursuant to the 1951 Convention but only once formal refugee status is accorded.’
    • ‘However, it must be remembered that it is for a jury to decide whether an offence has been committed on the facts, and previous decisions do not constitute any sort of formal precedent.’
    • ‘We want credentials and acknowledgement in some officially recognized, formal way for the work we have invented.’
    • ‘If bitten, victims are urged to make a formal complaint to the authorities and the owners could face stiff penalties.’
    • ‘It said that in the absence of any formal complaint even the authorities were not in a position to launch an investigation.’
    • ‘But her acting and, of course, dancing talents have actually not got her the deserving formal recognition in the name of awards.’
    official, legal, authorized, approved, validated, certified, endorsed, documented, sanctioned, licensed, recognized, authoritative, accepted, verified, legitimate, lawful, valid, bona fide, proper, prescribed, pro forma
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 Having a conventionally recognized form, structure, or set of rules.
      ‘he had little formal education’
      • ‘Since I hadn't received a formal graphic design education, I did not have the rudimentary skills required to develop a mature design style.’
      • ‘Traditionally, formal education was under the authority of the Ethiopian Coptic Christian Church.’
      • ‘Only recently have we seen large numbers of people come straight into Web design from formal education programs.’
      • ‘Have you ever had any formal education in design or new media?’
      • ‘Do you make the distinction between a formal hypnotic state and the everyday trance state?’
      • ‘As a singer, did you have any formal training or did you just begin knowing that you wanted to sing?’
      • ‘Is there some formal expression of etiquette that is appropriate here?’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I have no real formal music training, like every other punk who gets a keyboard for his bar mitzvah.’
      • ‘By age 5, children become interested in formal games with rules or two or more sides, and explicit activities.’
      • ‘By combining formal knowledge with real world experience and new ideas or perspectives, the construction of new knowledge occurs.’
      • ‘Her idea was to connect formal, structured education with real-world learning opportunities.’
      • ‘From that initial drawing, a more formal design for the structure evolved.’
      • ‘Nowadays, however, more Tuareg recognize the importance of formal education.’
      • ‘Additionally, the man himself is an inspiration due to his own lack of formal design education.’
      • ‘Some would say that the caliber of work we do demonstrates a formal education in Graphic Design.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I would look at him and feel really proud that we were going out, even though it never really felt like a formal boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.’
      • ‘That is why the development of formal education designed for blind people is now facing great constraints.’
      • ‘His first formal graphic design education was at a vocational school the year before he graduated high school.’
      symmetrical, regular, orderly, arranged, methodical, systematic, in straight lines, regimented
      conventional, mainstream, rigid
      View synonyms
  • 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’
    • ‘Richards documents the many changes masks are undergoing, especially in their formal qualities.’
    • ‘Both the content and the formal layout of the inscriptions changed.’
    • ‘Now I love formalism, if it reaches sensible results, and if it rests on formal distinctions that make sense.’
    • ‘But there are difficult questions to be asked as to how one might distinguish innovation from formal novelty.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘That work has no content beyond its formal execution of idea.’
    • ‘A viewer should expect that a dance will undergo some type of development of its formal components and thematic content.’
    • ‘It is also vital to debate criteria of formal quality in art alongside conceptual rigor.’
    • ‘If the sketch was valued, it was not for its intrinsic formal qualities, but rather because it offered visible evidence of something conceived, but not yet realized.’
    • ‘What is most important to Adamu is the nature of the subject, the significance of the stories told in the paintings, not the painting's formal qualities.’
    • ‘They are offered as commentary on the formal qualities of sculpture, but have been infused with just a little too much personality to mildly serve as object lessons.’
    • ‘Either way, the change itself is formal: purely formal change or the formal change of some content.’
    • ‘These sketches stick in the mind not just because of their content but because of their formal qualities.’
    • ‘The pictorialist landscapes expressed the value of formal qualities that were anathema to establishment photographers.’
    • ‘The young contemporary artists deal more with the whole image than its parts or else they respond abstractly to the general feeling or to the prints' formal qualities.’
    • ‘There are no distinct actors to give it formal content.’
    • ‘El Greco began as an icon painter in Crete, and certain formal qualities of Byzantine icons - such as their elongation of the figure - never left his art.’
    • ‘The large pieces, often 40 inches high, with their simplified color schemes draw more attention to their formal qualities.’
    • ‘Ostensibly, the title designates the thematic qualities of the sonnets, but it also announces their formal qualities as well.’
    • ‘The rope pieces pursue more resolved compositions and traditional formal concerns.’
    1. 3.1 Having the form or appearance without the spirit.
      ‘the committee stage would be purely formal’
      • ‘He claims that society must ensure both formal and real freedom.’
      • ‘Genuine democracy presupposes that broad layers of the population can satisfy their elementary interests not only in a formal sense but in real life.’
      • ‘Courtesy is the formal manifestation of the spirit of respect.’
      • ‘From the perspective of the liturgy of the Church this understanding of spirit has created a very formal and lifeless kind of worship.’
    2. 3.2 Relating to linguistic or logical form as opposed to function or meaning.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘First, modern mathematical methods were to be represented in formal deductive systems.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘These words which might be supposed to be vague in meaning in fact perform a very precise formal function.’
      • ‘It says that no consistent formal logical system can prove its own consistency.’
      • ‘One can have rigorous, logically sound formal systems based on diagrams.’
      • ‘There have been a lot of ‘proofs’, some aided by kinds of formal or symbolic logic.’
      • ‘After all, we may know many things that have nothing to do with formal logical systems.’
      • ‘The contradistinction of the two logics, formal logical and dialectical, is equally unjustified.’
      • ‘In a formal proof, all the intermediate logical steps are supplied.’


North American
  • 1An evening dress.

    ‘cocktail parties every night so the ladies can show off their formals’
    • ‘She would do her hair up for fun sometimes, and trot around her apartment in evening formals for no reason at all.’
    • ‘She had a serious weakness for formals and so most of her parties involved dressing up.’
    • ‘Then came the era of ready-to-wear clothes and Raymonds ventured into Park Avenue and Parx and a whole range from formals to casuals, all for men.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Madhav, who has run the shop for 27 years, turns out formals, ‘party’ wear and election gear.’
    • ‘For the formals as well as informals, Kutir creates the garments right from fabricating, dying, embroidery, stitching and assembling.’
    • ‘It has racks of formals, long ones, short ones, and at prices you won't believe.’
    • ‘So folks, dress up in your formals, grab some bubbly and enjoy the mix of high culture and the glorious environment that is Opera at The Channon.’
    • ‘The next best way is to get yourself garbed in a mix of exciting casuals or formals that really help you breathe easy.’
    1. 1.1 An occasion on which evening dress is worn.
      ‘the college will be hosting their annual formal on February 6’
      • ‘When students are in the twelfth grade they attend a senior school dance called the formal.’
      • ‘‘I didn't know there was a winter formal,’ Noella said, examining the sweater in the mirror.’
      • ‘They both just said, ‘So, are you going to the formal with anyone yet?’’
      • ‘I went to the winter formal when I was a freshman.’
      • ‘Everywhere she went, the girls talked of dresses, hair, make-up, and most of all, dates for the formal.’
      • ‘She looked absolutely beautiful, and it was more than the usual overly styled hair and huge puffy dress that girls usually wore to the spring formal.’
      • ‘Any parent who has a child in the latter years of high school is only too familiar with formals.’
      • ‘Our daughter has worked hard for this moment, tackling her studies with an intensity that can only come from trying to get everything done before the spring formal.’
      • ‘He was my guide post for everything before the formal.’
      • ‘Harry, Piper's brother, had left for college two years ago but had left me his tuxedo for formals, in the event that I ever attended one.’
      • ‘The 007 look-alike competition took place over the weekend with our youngsters embarking on a night to remember at the formal.’
      • ‘I went to my winter formal with a girl I liked and had no fun.’
      • ‘It seems the only things going on there anymore are Thursday night residence parties and high school formals.’
      • ‘I remember my mother wearing this dress when she attended a business formal with my dad.’
      • ‘When I had told him that I was going to be doing stats for the wrestling team, he just chuckled and mentioned something about me also wanting to get a date to the winter formal.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Why couldn't he have just invited a different girl to the winter formal?’
      • ‘It was Friday, the day before the winter formal, and his tuxedo still wasn't ready.’
      • ‘So anyway, Kelly wants Kevin to ask her to the formal.’


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