Formaldehyde (FA), a simple reactive carbonyl molecule, is endogenously produced in the cell at various physiological condition. At elevated level, FA causes severe cell toxicity as well as damage in macromolecules such proteins and DNA. For detecting FA in living cell, we identify a small but effective fluorescent turn on probe comprising single benzene-based orothophenylenediamine compound. Further study reveals that carboxylic group in orothophenylenediamine plays the important role in enhancing fluorescent signal than another electron withdrawing group. It is even interesting to observe the occurrence of fluorescent enhancement in glutathione (GSH) environment which is generally abundant in every cell. Our probe enables to detect FA over other bio-analytes efficiently with limit of detection of 123 nM and 355-fold of enhancement in cellular mimicking conditions. Moreover, this probe could be useful in discriminating cell that has high concentration of FA as well as GSH. © 2020 Elsevier B.V.