'Formerly' vs 'Formally': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on August 7, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between 'formerly' vs. 'formally?'

Here is the short version:

  • 'Formerly' is an adverb that means just before, previously, or at an earlier time.
  • 'Formally' is an adverb that means something is done lawfully or according to customs or an official form. 

To learn more about the meanings of these words and how to use them continue reading this post. It contains definitions, examples, and pronunciations to help you understand and remember their differences.

What is the Difference Between 'Formerly' vs. 'Formally?'

'Formerly' and 'formally' have similar spellings and pronunciations but have different meanings and usages.

  • You use 'formerly' to refer to something directly before something current or something that existed at a previous time.
  • 'Formally,' on the other hand, means that something is done legally or according to official form.

Definition of 'Formerly': What Does 'Formerly' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the meaning of the adverb 'formerly' is:

  • At a previous or earlier time

It can also mean:

  • Just before

Synonyms of 'Formerly'

  • Once
  • Earlier
  • Previously
  • Already
  • Early
  • Ahead
  • Preliminarily
  • In advance
  • First
  • Before

Definition of 'Formally': What Does 'Formally' Mean?

The second term is the adverb form of the adjective formal, which means:

  • Belonging to or creating the form of something

It can also mean:

  • Done according to the rules of society or etiquette
  • Done legally or according to the laws that apply
  • Done according to a specific form or structure

Synonyms of 'Formally'

  • Meticulously
  • Ceremoniously
  • Carefully
  • Gingerly
  • Deliberately
  • Intentionally
  • Purposefully
  • Systematically
  • Purposely

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Formerly' vs. 'Formally'

'Formerly' and 'formally' have similar spellings and pronunciations. So, people often confuse or misspell them. Learning the correct pronunciation will help you gain confidence to use the terms and tell them apart.

So, here is a quick pronunciation guide that you can follow. 

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'formerly':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'formally':


When and How to Use 'Formerly' vs. 'Formally'

Now that you know the differences, definitions, and pronunciations, we will look closer at when and how to use 'formerly' vs. 'formally.'

  • Use 'formerly' to introduce someone or something known by a different name in the past.

For example, you could say:

The social media platform formerly known as Twitter was renamed X this week.

  • Use 'formerly' to say that someone used to hold a specific position.

As an example, I could say:

He formerly held the title of Chief of Surgery at Saint Luke's Hospital in Houston, TX.

  • Use 'formerly' to say that something was in a different location in the past.

So, you might say:

We are going to Lopez Mexican Restaurant. It was formerly located in the strip center, but the owners built a beautiful restaurant next-door. 

  • Use 'formerly' when you say something used to be something else.

As an example, you might see a property description that says:

This beautiful home was formerly an abandoned warehouse. Only a talented architect could envision what it could become. 

  • Use 'formally' to tell the official name of something.

For example, you could say:

He is formally known as Edgar Robertson, but his friends call him Eggie. 

  • Use 'formally' to indicate that something is official.

So, you could say:

You are formally invited to attend our estate's New Year's Eve event on January 1st, 2024. 

  • Use 'formally' to say someone was charged with a crime at a specific time.

For example, I might say:

He was under investigation for over a year, but they formally charged him last Tuesday.

Sample Sentences Using 'Formerly' vs. 'Formally'

Now, read these sample sentences using 'formerly' vs. 'formally' to ensure you understand and know the difference between these terms.


  • Formerly, she was a local small business owner, but now the president of an international corporation.
  • Her married name is Mrs. Jones, but she was formerly known by her maiden name Ms. Smith.
  • Formerly, the location was on the corner of Main St. and Travis St. in Downtown.
  • Are you going to the show by the band formerly known as the Radical Royals?
  • Did you formerly live on Elm Street? You look a lot like my old neighbor.
  • We were formerly the largest non-profit organization in Texas, but we had to shut down many of our programs due to a lack of funding.
  • The site was formerly a mine, so you need to have environmental tests done to ensure that the property is free of harmful contaminants.
  • He was formerly a criminal defense attorney, but he recently won the election for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1.


  • When is the schedule going to be formally announced?
  • These are the plans the board of directors formally voted on during the last meeting.
  • When are you formally announcing your engagement? It would be better to wait until after your divorce is final!
  • We will formally acknowledge the award recipients after they are announced at the gala.
  • You need to be formally admitted to the institution before you can start registering for classes.
  • Are you formally in charge of the event, or is someone else making the decisions?
  • The city has formally repurposed severe flood areas all over the city.
  • Why are you dressed so formally? The event is casual.

Review: The Difference Between 'Formerly' vs. 'Formally'

Finally, let's review the difference between 'formerly' vs. 'formally':

  • 'Formerly' is an adverb you use to describe a verb as occurring previously. 
  • 'Formally' is an adverb that means legally or by social, ethical, or etiquette rules. 

These are just a few of the many confusing words in the English language. So, if you ever need clarification on the above terms or others, you can always check the confusing words section here.

We have hundreds of guides that contain definitions, pronunciations, usage tips, and grammar rules. These guides are an excellent way to expand your vocabulary while learning different ways to use terms.

So, whether you are an aspiring writer or an English language learner, you can use them to verify meanings or read a few per week to improve your language skills.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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