What Does Formal Mean?

The term ‘formal’ is a commonly used adjective in the English language which originates from the Latin word ‘formalis,’ meaning ‘pertaining to form.’ It refers to something being conducted in accordance with convention or etiquette and is chiefly associated with events, clothing, language, education, and behaviors. In each of these contexts, the meaning of ‘formal’ can differ slightly leading to multiple definitions. Below, we will dive further into the various interpretations of ‘formal.’

First, let’s look at formal events. These gatherings are often considered structured or solemn, marked by a set of established rules or procedures that are strictly followed. A formal event could be a state function, a wedding, a funeral, or an official meeting. These events demand specific decorum, such as punctuality, unique rituals, and usually a dress code.

In the context of clothing, ‘formal’ denotes an attire that is deemed suitable for serious or high-stature occasions. These clothing items typically exhibit a certain elegance. For men, a formal attire would typically include a dark suit or a tuxedo, while for women, it may be a long, elegant gown.

When we talk about formal language, we refer to a style of language used in more serious contexts or professional communications. Its defining characteristic is its adherence to the conventions of standard English, often avoiding colloquialisms, abbreviations, and slang. A job application, business letters, legal documents usually employ formal language.

In terms of education, a formal learning environment is one where training or learning occurs in a structured, organized setting. This could be a school, university or a training institute, where there is a clear goal, directed by a teacher or a trainer following a curriculum.

Finally, with reference to behavior, being formal suggests behaving in a way that is socially approved and appropriate for the setting, showing politeness and avoiding casualness or familiarity.

In summary, ‘formal’ is a multifaceted term with varied applications. However, its core meaning revolves around adhering to established, conventional, and stipulated standards or norms. It’s about showing respect towards the general codes of conduct, decorum, or the rules, primarily when dealing with serious matters or on occasions of significance. This invariably results in portraying enhanced professionalism and seriousness towards the matter at hand.