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Formally vs. Formerly — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on October 30, 2023
Formally refers to doing something in a proper or official manner, while Formerly means "in the past" or "previously."
Formally vs. Formerly — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Formally and Formerly


Key Differences

Formally and Formerly, although similar in spelling, convey very different meanings. Formally, derived from the word "formal," implies an action done in accordance with established procedures or etiquette. On the other hand, Formerly stands as an adverb that points towards a past state or condition of a subject.
Using the term Formally often relates to actions or behaviors that adhere to specific standards, protocols, or rituals. If one behaves formally, they act with decorum, respecting the norms set by society or an institution. Conversely, when one uses the term Formerly, they are emphasizing a previous identity, state, or condition, different from the current situation.
The distinction between Formally and Formerly also highlights the difference between adhering to conventions and referencing the past. If a person introduces themselves formally, they might present their full name and title. If they introduce themselves with a reference to "formerly," they might mention a past role or title they once held.
While both words may sometimes be used in similar contexts, such as introductions or official settings, it's vital to discern their respective nuances. Formally leans towards the manner or method in which something is done, while Formerly revolves around the history or past status of a subject.
In writing and speech, ensuring the correct use of Formally and Formerly prevents ambiguity. Being conscious of their distinctive meanings enhances clarity, ensuring that the intended message is conveyed without confusion.

Comparison Chart


In accordance with established procedures or etiquette
In the past or previously


Derived from "formal"
Derived from "former"

Context of Use

Manner or method in which something is done
Refers to history or past status of a subject

Example Usage

"She was formally introduced at the event."
"He was formerly the CEO of the company."


Adherence to conventions
Reference to the past

Compare with Definitions


In an official manner.
The treaty was formally signed by both nations.


In a previous life or role.
The building was formerly a warehouse.


With strict observance of forms or conventions.
He was dressed formally for the gala.


Prior to the present.
He was formerly known by a different name.


In a manner that conforms to a particular structure.
She formally outlined the agenda for the meeting.


In times gone by.
The area was formerly a dense forest.


Following established rules or procedures.
The complaint was formally filed.


At an earlier time.
She was formerly a teacher before becoming an author.


In a ceremonious manner.
They were formally inducted into the hall of fame.


Once, but not now.
It was formerly believed that the world was flat.


Relating to or involving outward form or structure, often in contrast to content or meaning.


At an earlier time; once.


Being or relating to essential form or constitution
A formal principle.


At some time in the past
Xenia Robertson, formerly known as Xenia Isaamov, is from Ukraine.


Following or being in accord with accepted or prescribed forms, conventions, or regulations
Had little formal education.
Went to a formal party.


Previously; once
This ranch was formerly owned by slaveholders.


Characterized by strict or meticulous observation of forms; methodical
Very formal in their business transactions.


In time past, either in time immediately preceding or at any indefinite distance; of old; heretofore.


Stiffly ceremonious
A formal greeting.


At a previous time;
Once he loved her
Her erstwhile writing


Characterized by technical or polysyllabic vocabulary, complex sentence structure, and explicit transitions; not colloquial or informal
Formal discourse.


Having the outward appearance but lacking in substance
A formal requirement that is usually ignored.


Something, such as a gown or social affair, that is formal in nature.


In a formal manner.
He was dressed too formally for the occasion.


In accordance with official procedure.
He formally filed a complaint, which involved much paperwork.


In accordance with rigorous rules.
He proved it formally but gave his students no intuitive feel for the matter.


In a formal manner; essentially; characteristically; expressly; regularly; ceremoniously; precisely.
That which formally makes this [charity] a Christian grace, is the spring from which it flows.
You and your followers do stand formally divided against the authorized guides of the church and rest of the people.


With official authorization;
The club will be formally recognized


In a formal manner;
He was dressed rather formally

Common Curiosities

Are Formally and Formerly interchangeable?

No, "Formally" relates to official manners, while "Formerly" indicates a past state or condition.

Can "Formally" refer to the past?

No, "Formally" refers to the manner of doing something, not its timing.

Can "Formerly" be used without specifying what came after?

While it's clearer to specify, "Formerly" can sometimes be used if the current state is understood.

Is "Formerly" the same as "previously"?

They're similar, but "Formerly" often emphasizes a more distinct change or transition from the past.

Can "Formerly" be used to indicate a name change?

Yes, e.g., "She was formerly known as Jane."

Does "Formally" only refer to human actions?

No, it can refer to any action or thing done in a proper or official manner.

Is "Formally" always about ceremonies?

No, "Formally" can also refer to any action done following established procedures or etiquette.

Can "Formerly" be used to describe a future event?

No, "Formerly" always refers to something in the past.

Can "Formally" relate to language and writing?

Yes, you can write or speak "Formally", adhering to strict grammar and conventions.

Do these words have noun forms?

Yes, "Formality" for "Formally" and "Former" for "Formerly", though "Former" is used differently.

Is "Formally" related to "formalwear"?

Yes, both relate to conventions, with "formalwear" being clothing appropriate for formal events.

When should I use "Formally"?

Use it when referring to actions done in an official, structured, or proper manner.

Can "Formerly" refer to a place's past name?

Yes, e.g., "The city was formerly known as Constantinople."

How can I remember the difference between the two?

Think of "Formally" as related to "form" or structure, and "Formerly" as related to "former" or past.

Are there opposites for these words?

"Informally" is the opposite of "Formally." "Formerly" doesn't have a direct antonym, but "currently" contrasts its meaning.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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