When to Use Formally or Formerly

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'Formally' and 'formerly' are words that sound very similar, due in part to the fact that they are both adverbs and end in '-ly'. This lesson will walk you through how to use each of these adverbs correctly in a sentence.

Near-Identical Twins

A lot of people know about homonyms, which are words that sound alike but have different spelling and meanings, like 'to', 'too', and 'two' or 'there', 'their', and 'they're'. But what about near-homonyms? These are words that don't sound identical but are very close. These near-sound-alikes can cause confusion in oral communication, and this can bleed over into writing as well.

One pair of near-homonyms is 'formally' and 'formerly'. Though the middle syllables of these words are different, they sound very similar when spoken. This is partially because they are both adverbs, which means a descriptive word that describes a verb, adjective, or group of words. Many adverbs, like these two, end in '-ly'.

In fact, many adverbs are forms of adjectives, which are words that describe nouns. You make an adverb by adding the '-ly' to the adjective form. So 'formally' and 'formerly' are adverb forms of the words 'formal' and 'former'. Since those words don't sound as much alike, it's a good way to tell them apart.

Formerly

'Formerly', as we just discussed, is the adverb form of 'former', and both words describe something that happened in the past or in earlier times. 'Former' (the adjective) would be used like this:

  • George W. Bush is the former president of the United States.

In this sentence, the adjective 'former' is used because it is describing the noun 'president'. 'Formerly', on the other hand, would be used to describe verbs (action words), adjectives, or groups of words:

  • The formerly violent criminal had been reformed.
  • Our white house was formerly pink.
  • May I introduce you to Mr. Johnson, formerly of Connecticut but now living in Florida.

Our white house was formerly pink.
House

Formally

'Formally' has the same relationship to its adjective form, 'former'. Both describe something that is proper or official. Here's the adjective 'formal' being used to describe a noun:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support