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Formally and Formerly

Commonly Confused Words

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Formally and Formerly

The adverb formally means "in a formal way." The adverb formerly means "at an earlier time."

Examples:

  • Formerly an art movement, surrealism is no longer distinguishable from everyday life.

  • I have never studied art formally.

Usage Notes:

"Look at the two words with the suffix removed--formal, former. Think of formal invitations, formal dress, formality. In each of these is the idea of proper manner, politeness, doing things according to form. Former has to do with time, or order of sequence. Thus we say On a former occasion he talked about Italian lakes. We mean that he talked about Italian lakes on a previous occasion. In a similar manner we say Formerly he worked for Sage & Allen. You would never think of writing formerlity for formality; then why is it that sometimes you substitute formally for formerly? Perhaps you do not, but many others do."
(Alfred M. Hitchcock, Junior English Book. Henry Holt and Company, 1920)

Practice:

(a) This cafe was _____ a swank restaurant.

(b) Guests were greeted _____ at the door.

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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