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Formally vs Formerly


  • ‘Formally’ (adv) means ‘in a serious and correct way; officially’ or ‘in terms of form or structure’.
  • ‘Formerly’ (adv) means ‘in previous times’.

What’s the difference between ‘formally’ and ‘formerly’?

Although these two adverbs look and sound similar, they mean very different things.

  • While ‘formerly’ relates to a temporal element (something that happened in the past), ‘formally’ refers to the way something is done (in a serious, conservative manner) or described (in terms of structure).
  • In research papers, the structure-related meaning of ‘formally’ is more common.

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How they’re used

Example sentences with ‘formally’

  • The aim of this study is to formally describe the software architecture of a SoS.
  • This led to a formally verified algorithm for interactive consistency.

Example sentences with ‘formerly’

  • This phenomenon was formerly described as string theory.
  • The disease formerly known as rheumatoid arthritis is discussed in Chapter 3.