noun au·thor·i·ty \ ə-ˈthär-ə-tē , ȯ- , -ˈthȯr- \
|Updated on: 17 Jul 2018

Definition of authority

plural authorities
1 a : power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior
  • the president's authority
b : freedom granted by one in authority : right
  • Who gave you the authority to do as you wish?
2 a : persons in command; specifically : government
  • the local authorities of each state
b : a governmental agency or corporation to administer a revenue-producing public enterprise
  • the transit authority
  • the city's housing authority
3 a : grounds, warrant
  • had excellent authority for believing the claim
b : convincing force
  • lent authority to the performance
4 a (1) : a citation (as from a book or file) used in defense or support
(2) : the source from which the citation is drawn
  • He quoted extensively from the Bible, his sole authority.
b (1) : a conclusive statement or set of statements (such as an official decision of a court)
(2) : a decision taken as a precedent
(3) : testimony
c : an individual cited or appealed to as an expert
  • The prosecutor called the psychiatrist as an authority.

Examples of authority in a Sentence

  1. The boss is not popular but his authority is unquestioned.

  2. She has an air of authority.

  3. Her southern accent lent authority to her performance.

  4. We reported the incident to hospital authorities.

  5. Local authorities are investigating the accident.

Recent Examples of authority from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'authority.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of authority

Middle English auctorite, from Anglo-French auctorité, from Latin auctoritat-, auctoritas opinion, decision, power, from auctor — see 1author

Synonym Discussion of authority

influence, authority, prestige, weight, credit mean power exerted over the minds or behavior of others. influence may apply to a force exercised and received consciously or unconsciously.
    • used her influence to get the bill passed
authority implies the power of winning devotion or allegiance or of compelling acceptance and belief.
    • his opinions lacked authority
prestige implies the ascendancy given by conspicuous excellence or reputation for superiority.
    • the prestige of the newspaper
weight implies measurable or decisive influence in determining acts or choices.
    • their wishes obviously carried much weight
credit suggests influence that arises from the confidence of others.
    • his credit with the press
power, authority, jurisdiction, control, command, sway, dominion mean the right to govern or rule or determine. power implies possession of ability to wield force, authority, or influence.
    • the power to mold public opinion
authority implies power for a specific purpose within specified limits.
    • granted the authority to manage her estate
jurisdiction applies to official power exercised within prescribed limits.
    • the bureau having jurisdiction over parks
control stresses the power to direct and restrain.
    • you are responsible for the students under your control
command implies the power to make arbitrary decisions and compel obedience.
    • the army officer in command
sway suggests the extent of exercised power or influence.
    • the empire extended its sway over the region
dominion stresses sovereign power or supreme authority.
    • given dominion over all the animals

AUTHORITY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of authority for English Language Learners

  • : the power to give orders or make decisions : the power or right to direct or control someone or something

  • : the confident quality of someone who knows a lot about something or who is respected or obeyed by other people

  • : a quality that makes something seem true or real

AUTHORITY Defined for Kids


noun au·thor·i·ty \ ə-ˈthȯr-ə-tē \

Definition of authority for Students

plural authorities
1 : power to exercise control
2 : a person looked to as an expert
  • She's a leading authority on fitness.
3 : people having powers to make decisions and enforce rules and laws
  • State authorities are investigating the disputed election.
4 : a fact or statement used to support a position
  • What is your authority for this argument?

Law Dictionary


noun au·thor·i·ty

legal Definition of authority

plural authorities
1 : an official decision of a court used especially as a precedent
2 a : a power to act especially over others that derives from status, position, or office
  • the authority of the president
; also : jurisdiction
b : the power to act that is officially or formally granted (as by statute, corporate bylaw, or court order)
  • within the scope of the treasurer's authority
  • police officers executing a warrant…are not required to “knock and announce” their authority and purposes before entering
  • National Law Journal
c : power and capacity to act granted by someone in a position of control; specifically : the power to act granted by a principal to his or her agent
actual authority
: the authority that a principal in reality has granted to an agent
actual express authority
: the actual authority of an agent specifically stated or written by the principal
actual implied authority
: the actual authority of an agent that the principal has not specified but has purposely or through negligence allowed the agent to believe has been granted
apparent authority
: the authority that a principal purposely or through negligence allows a third party to believe that the principal's agent has although such authority has not in reality been granted called also authority by estoppel, ostensible authority
Note: A principal is bound by the acts of an agent acting with apparent authority.
express authority
: authority that is explicitly granted to an agent by a principal called also expressed authority, stipulated authority
implied authority
: the authority to perform acts that are customary, necessary, and understood by an agent as authorized in performing acts for which the principal has given express authority
ostensible authority
: apparent authority in this entry
stipulated authority
: express authority in this entry
3 : a person in a position of power and especially a public office usually used in pl.
  • the local authorities
4 a : a government agency or corporation that administers a revenue-producing public enterprise
  • the transit authority
b : a government agency or public office responsible for an area of regulation
  • should apply for a permit to the permitting authority

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