The words “Formally” and “Formerly” are among the group of homophones that often times are wrongly used, or confused to the extent that they repeatedly occur when communicating the language, especially in the written form. I have come across several of them. It is time we get it right. Again, homophones are words which sound the same as another but are different in spelling or meaning. The adverbs “Formally” and “Formerly” fall under this category. So we must be mindful and say exactly which of the two “Formally” and “Formerly” fits into the context of that statement we want to convey to the listening and reading publics. That way the confusion would be taken care of and then stand the chance of avoiding ambiguity which hinders effective communication.
The language has suffered abuse mostly in the hands of non-conformists who feel no one can lay claim to ownership of English and so there are no formal precepts or accepted standard to speak or write the language. The pragmatics have come down heavily on those who hold this view, insisting that the British English remains the standard whether in official circle, business and even the media described as the pace-setter in maintaining the Standard English. Nigeria, for example, as I always say, will not deviate from the Standard English as the common lingua franca. The nation’s educational system, from the primary, secondary to the tetiary levels are fashioned after the British Standard of English. Back to our lesson of today. The word “Formally” explained, especially as I address this piece, majorly to learners of the language, means doing something or performing activities in a formal manner.
Or what others would speak of formalizing an agreement by putting pen on paper rather than say it carelessly without a written note to back up one’s claim. On the flip side, the adverb, “Formerly” tells about the past, previously; before now or this time. We can expand the word “Formally” further to include or relating to the way we do things, social etiquette, ceremony or conventional procedure generally acceptable. It could be the way one dresses- formal dress or attire for an event or occasion. I have exhaustibly explained the two sound-alike words that should not confuse one any longer, especially for those who English is a second language. One can correctly write, for instance, “Ebenezer James, formerly of Bridge and Stone Company was formally dressed for the party.” Or “David Asor, formerly head of the construction firm is now the managing partner of C & C Lease.” You can now download the ebooks: Reporting For Radio and Television: A Practical Guide, English for Communicators: Pitfalls and Blind Spots, The General Overseer-god in the Holy Temple.