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Formal vs. Former: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 18, 2023
"Formal" pertains to official conventions or etiquette; "former" refers to something that existed before or previously.

Key Differences

Formal indicates something that is done in accordance with established rules, etiquette, or ceremonies, often characterized by seriousness and a lack of personal touch. Former refers to something that was in place or in effect before and is no longer current; it is a term that specifies a position in time rather than a quality of behavior or action.
In a formal setting, one might wear a suit and tie, which are clothing choices that adhere to a conventional dress code. On the other hand, a former president wears no special attire but is referred to as such because of their previous role and the time during which they served.
Invitations to formal events clearly state the expected dress code and decorum to ensure a standardized and recognized level of formality. Conversely, former events or situations are referred to in the past tense and indicate that they have been replaced or have ended.
A formal approach to language involves structured grammar and vocabulary, suitable for professional or ceremonial circumstances. In contrast, former language usage might refer to archaic terms or styles of speech that were once popular but are now out of use.
Formal processes are methodical and official, often requiring documentation and adherence to protocol, emphasizing order and structure. Former processes may now be obsolete or replaced by more modern methods, but they represent the historical way things were conducted.

Comparison Chart


Official, according to rules or conventions
Preceding in time; no longer current


Ceremonies, official events
Referring to the past


Dress code specific
Not applicable


Structured, official
Outdated or previous usage


Methodical and documented
Historical, outdated methods

Formal and Former Definitions


Pertaining to official standards.
A formal dinner requires evening attire.


Preceding in time.
The former CEO visited our office today.


Conforming to established practice.
They exchanged formal greetings.


Previous in order or sequence.
Please return to your former position.


Characterized by rigidity or ceremony.
The ambassador made a formal address.


Having once been.
She took a trip with her former teacher.


Not personal or casual.
His tone was formal and impersonal.


The first of two mentioned.
Between jazz and blues, I prefer the former.


Officially sanctioned or recognized.
She received a formal education.


Referring to the past.
The building was a palace in its former glory.


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


One that forms; a maker or creator
A former of ideas.


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


A member of a school form
A fifth former.


What does former mean?

Something that existed before or previously, no longer current.

What's an example of a formal occasion?

A state banquet or a judicial proceeding.

What does formal mean?

Adhering to established rules or conventions, often with seriousness.

Can something be both formal and former?

Yes, if it's an outdated official practice or item.

What's an example of a former position?

An ex-president or a previous job role.

How does one address a former official?

Often by their former title, as a courtesy.

Can "former" refer to inanimate objects?

Yes, such as former capitals or former headquarters.

Is formal speech always necessary in business?

It depends on the context and company culture.

Do formal clothes have to be expensive?

Not necessarily; they just need to meet the dress code.

Are former employees entitled to company benefits?

It varies by company policy and the terms of their departure.

Does "former" imply obsolescence?

Not always; it simply indicates something is not current.

How is formality decided in a workplace?

Through company policies and cultural norms.

Can a building be both formal and former?

Yes, like an old courthouse now used for tours.

Is formal education always in a school setting?

Typically, though it can also be structured homeschooling or online courses.

How should one dress for a formal event?

In attire that matches the event's specified dress code.

Can a former policy still affect the present?

Yes, if its consequences or precedents are still influential.

What's the difference between formal and informal language?

Formal language follows strict rules, while informal is relaxed.

What's a formal introduction?

Presenting oneself or others in a structured, respectful manner.

Can former refer to people?

Yes, in the context of previous roles or relationships.

What makes a formal letter different from a casual one?

Its structured format and polite, impersonal language.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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