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How To Choose Between “Formally” and “Formerly”

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It’s no wonder people often get “formally” and “formerly” mixed up—not only do they sound the same, but they’re spelled similarly, too. We’ll go over what these words mean and show you how to always use them correctly.

Formally known as or formerly known as? Only one is correct.
Do you know the difference between “formerly” and “formally”?
Is It “Formally” or “Formerly”?

Formally is an adverb that refers to doing something “in accordance with the rules, standards, or protocols,” but can also mean “officially.”

  • We wanted to formally introduce the new CEO of the company.

Formerly is an adverb that means “in the past.”

  • Hank the dog was formerly referred to as the unofficial mascot of the team.

The base words of formally and formerlyformal and former, respectively—can help you remember what these words mean.

“Formally” vs. “Formerly”

Formally and formerly.

These two words may look like they are siblings or (at the very least) cousins, but they’re actually not as related as you might expect.

Still, many people end up misusing these words due to their similar spelling and pronunciation. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the definitions of formally and formerly, review example sentences, and show you a foolproof way to never get these words mixed up again.

Let’s dive in!

What Does “Formally” Mean?

Formally is an adverb—meaning it describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb—as having been done “in a formal manner” or “in a way that follows standard protocols or proper etiquette.”

He was not a formally trained scientist, which allowed him to think outside the box in a way the other scientists could not.

In the sentence above, the man is described as someone who wasn’t formally trained. In other words, he didn’t follow the usual steps to become a scientist.

Here are a few more examples of formally being used in sentences.

Her jersey was formally retired on January 8th.
Landon dresses formally regardless of where he is going.
The board members formally approved the proposals.

The base word of formally is formal, which (as an adjective) describes something as “following customs, conventions, or ceremonies.” Knowing this can help you remember how to use formally correctly.

Formally vs Formerly: Formal is an adjective, and formally is an adverb.
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Synonyms for “Formally”

A few synonyms for formally include:

1. Properly

Make sure the letter is formally addressed.
Make sure the letter is properly addressed.

2. Officially

Grether formally became the president of the club.
Grether officially became the president of the club.

3. Correctly

All businesses must be formally registered.
All businesses must be correctly registered.

4. Conventionally

They wanted to approach the issue as formally as possible.
They wanted to approach the issue as conventionally as possible.

5. Ceremoniously

The artifact was formally cleaned and displayed.
The artifact was ceremoniously cleaned and displayed.
Is It “Formerly Known As” or “Formally Known As”?

The correct spelling of the phrase is formerly known as. Formerly known as is often used when referring to someone or something that used to be called a different name. For example:

  • The building, which was formerly known as the Imaginarium, has been converted into a fully functioning planetarium.

Formally known as is a common misspelling of the phrase.

What Does “Formerly” Mean?

Formerly is an adverb that means “in the past,” or “at an earlier or previous time.”

The space, which was formerly a salon, was being remodeled into a grocery store.

In the sentence above, the use of formerly indicates that the space was a salon in the past but is now being transformed into something else.

Here are a few more sentences that contain the word formerly:

Lucas was formerly a vegetarian, but he recently started incorporating animal protein back into his diet.
Formerly, everyone had to be present, but now they allow one team member to sign everyone up.
The island, formerly uninhabited, is now home to 5,000 residents.

The root word of formerly is former. Keeping this in mind can help you differentiate between formerly and formally.

Former and formerly are different parts of speech.
The base of a word can help you figure out what it means.

Synonyms for “Formerly”

Synonyms for formerly are:

1. Previously

We had formerly discussed the plans.
We had previously discussed the plans.

2. Once

What was formerly a busy mall eventually became an abandoned building.
What was once a busy mall eventually became an abandoned building.

3. Before

Formerly, teams had to forfeit if there weren’t enough contestants.
Before, teams had to forfeit if there weren’t enough contestants.

4. Already

I’ve formerly instructed them about this.
I’ve already instructed them about this.

5. In the past

Formerly, Cindy was my best friend, but now she doesn’t talk to me at all.
In the past, Cindy was my best friend, but now she doesn’t talk to me at all.
What Does “FKA” Mean?

FKA is an abbreviation that stands for formerly known as. As previously stated, formerly known as is used to state someone or something’s previous name or identity.

  • The company called Flourish (FKA Bloom) is now operating under its new name.

Using “Formally” and “Formerly” Correctly

Keep this in mind to avoid misusing these words again:

  • Formal is the base word of formally.
  • Former is the base word of formerly.

Another quick and easy way to ensure proper usage of formally and formerly is to use LanguageTool. This advanced, multilingual writing assistant corrects misused words and errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It can also analyze your writing to suggest stylistic improvements that’ll take your writing to the next level.

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