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[fawr-muh l] /ˈfɔr məl/
being in accordance with the usual requirements, customs, etc.; conventional:
to pay one's formal respects.
marked by form or ceremony:
a formal occasion.
designed for wear or use at occasions or events marked by elaborate ceremony or prescribed social observance:
The formal attire included tuxedos and full-length gowns.
requiring a type of dress suitable for such occasions:
a formal dance.
observant of conventional requirements of behavior, procedure, etc., as persons; ceremonious.
excessively ceremonious:
a manner that was formal and austere.
being a matter of form only; perfunctory:
We expected more than just formal courtesy.
made or done in accordance with procedures that ensure validity:
a formal authorization.
of, relating to, or emphasizing the organization or composition of the constituent elements in a work of art perceived separately from its subject matter:
a formal approach to painting; the formal structure of a poem.
being in accordance with prescribed or customary forms:
a formal siege.
Theater. (of a stage setting) generalized and simplified in design, especially of architectural elements, and serving as a permanent set for a play irrespective of changes in location.
acquired in school; academic:
He had little formal training in economics.
symmetrical or highly organized:
a formal garden.
of, reflecting, or noting a usage of language in which syntax, pronunciation, etc., adhere to traditional standards of correctness and usage is characterized by the absence of casual, contracted, and colloquial forms:
The paper was written in formal English.
  1. pertaining to form.
  2. Aristotelianism. not material; essential.
Logic. formal logic.
pertaining to the form, shape, or mode of a thing, especially as distinguished from the substance:
formal writing, bereft of all personality.
being such merely in appearance or name; nominal:
a formal head of the government having no actual powers.
  1. (of a proof) in strict logical form with a justification for every step.
  2. (of a calculation) correct in form; made with strict justification for every step.
  3. (of a calculation, derivation, representation, or the like) of or relating to manipulation of symbols without regard to their meaning.
a dance, ball, or other social occasion that requires formalwear.
an evening gown.
in formal attire:
We're supposed to go formal.
Origin of formal1
1350-1400; Middle English formal, formel < Latin fōrmālis. See form, -al1
Related forms
formalness, noun
2. Formal, academic, conventional may have either favorable or unfavorable implications. Formal may mean in proper form, or may imply excessive emphasis on empty form. In the favorable sense, academic applies to scholars or higher institutions of learning; it may, however, imply slavish conformance to mere rules, or to belief in impractical theories. Conventional, in a favorable sense, applies to desirable conformity with accepted conventions or customs; but it more often is applied to arbitrary, forced, or meaningless conformity. 5. conforming, conformist. 6. punctilious. 8. official.


[fawr-mal] /ˈfɔr mæl/
noun, Chemistry
1895-1900; from formaldehyde Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for formal
  • They are in contrast with the rest of the picture, which is stylized, with little except formal lines of tension.
  • Rigid in respect of the upper lip, he sticks to a stern routine of exercises and always dresses in formal attire for dinner.
  • And when he hires cooks for his own kitchen, he pays scant attention to their formal culinary schooling.
  • With that in mind, the military needs to establish a formal data system for tracking such relationships.
  • Because there was no formal agreement about when to take a bathroom break, neither side budged.
  • Although there is no formal acknowledgment of copying in my examples, neither is there any likelihood of deception.
  • Time for reading at large is limited, for the formal educational regimen is treated seriously.
  • He keeps a dressing room full of elegant clothing-closets of dark suits and formal wear, and a rack of hats.
  • His formal education ended before he was able to complete high school.
  • Without advanced degrees or formal career paths, poets were recognized as special creatures.
British Dictionary definitions for formal


of, according to, or following established or prescribed forms, conventions, etc: a formal document
characterized by observation of conventional forms of ceremony, behaviour, dress, etc: a formal dinner
methodical, precise, or stiff
suitable for occasions organized according to conventional ceremony: formal dress
denoting or characterized by idiom, vocabulary, etc, used by educated speakers and writers of a language
acquired by study in academic institutions: a formal education
regular or symmetrical in form: a formal garden
of or relating to the appearance, form, etc, of something as distinguished from its substance
logically deductive: formal proof
  1. of or relating to form as opposed to matter or content
  2. pertaining to the essence or nature of something: formal cause
  3. (in the writings of Descartes) pertaining to the correspondence between an image or idea and its object
  4. being in the formal mode
denoting a second-person pronoun in some languages used when the addressee is a stranger, social superior, etc: in French the pronoun ``vous'' is formal, while ``tu'' is informal
Derived Forms
formally, adverb
formalness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin formālis


another name for methylal
Word Origin
C19: from form(ic) + -al³
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for formal

late 14c., from Old French formel (13c.) and directly from Latin formalis, from forma (see form (n.)). As a noun, c.1600 (plural) "things that are formal;" as a short way to say formal dance, recorded by 1906, U.S. college students.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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formal in Technology

1. FORmula MAnipulation Language.
An early Fortran extension for symbolic mathematics.
["FORMAL, A Formula Manipulation Language", C.K. Mesztenyi, Computer Note CN-1, CS Dept, U Maryland (Jan 1971)].
2. A data manipulation language for nonprogrammers from IBM LASC.
["FORMAL: A Forms-Oriented and Visual-Directed Application System", N.C. Shu, IEEE Computer 18(8):38-49 (1985)].
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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