Formal diction is somewhat self-explanatory as the word “formal” is in the title. It is used when the setting is sophisticated and professional. This could be anything from a speech, to a paper submitted to a research journal. The speaker is usually striving to sound smart. Often, the vocabulary used in a poem with formal diction is complicated with elevated words and phrases.
This form of writing, especially in poetry, was much more popular in the past than it is today. The Modernist movement pushed back against the stodgy, formality of this kind of writing. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t beautiful, emotional examples to consider.
Examples of Formal Diction in Literature
Example #1: To My Dear and Loving Husband by Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.
ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
Within this piece, specifically within his excerpt, the speaker is addressing her husband and their relationship cooly and calmly. Despite the importance of what she’s discussing she appeals to his rational side. She uses words like “surely” and phrases like “If ever”. This helps her get her point across clearly and sophisticatedly. Ideally, the intended listener hears these words and is influenced in a specific way.
Example #2: Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Another example that benefits from the use of formal diction is ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats. This is one of his best-known odes, and was written at the same time as other odes such as ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. Here is the first stanza from the poem for you to consider:
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,Sylvan historian, who canst thus expressA flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shapeOf deities or mortals, or of both,In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?What men or gods are these? maidens loth?What mad pursuit? struggle to escape?What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?