pro·​pri·​e·​ty | \ prə-ˈprī-ə-tē How to pronounce propriety (audio) \
plural proprieties

Definition of propriety

1 : the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness
2a : conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech
b proprieties plural : the customs and manners of polite society
c : fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior especially between the sexes
3 obsolete : true nature
4 obsolete : a special characteristic : peculiarity

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Synonyms & Antonyms for propriety



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In an earlier era, when social manners were far more elaborate than they are today, propriety and impropriety were words in constant use. Today we're more likely to use them in other contexts. We may talk about the propriety of government officials' dealings with private citizens, the propriety of the relationship between a lawyer and a judge, or the impropriety of speaking out of turn in a meeting that follows Robert's rules of order. Relations between men and women still present questions of propriety, but today it's often in the workplace rather than in social settings. Wherever rules, principles, and standard procedures have been clearly stated, propriety can become an issue. Something improper usually isn't actually illegal, but it makes people uncomfortable by giving the impression that something isn't quite right.

Examples of propriety in a Sentence

If Madison felt the same annoyance with the dissenters, his prim sense of political propriety forbade him from stooping to personal attacks. — Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings … , 1996 His austere and basically humble personality imposes a curious damp propriety upon his memorial. — John Updike, New Yorker, 1 July 1991 In contemporary America the appearance of prosperity is all too often taken as a sign of propriety. — Jack Beatty, Atlantic, December 1989 She conducted herself with propriety. They debated the propriety of the punishment that he was given. When attending a wedding, there are certain proprieties that must be observed.
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Recent Examples on the Web Any such undertaking would need to be taken with extreme care in order to avoid even the perception of partisan motivation, and any reasonable doubts about the propriety of a promotion should be resolved in favor of the position-holder. Ankush Khardori, The New Republic, "How to De-Trumpify the Justice Department," 9 Nov. 2020 Lawmakers have questioned the propriety of the payments and travel, given that the Maryland Environmental Service gets 95% of its funding from local and state government agencies. Pamela Wood,, "Lawyers negotiating when Maryland Gov. Hogan’s ex-chief of staff will appear before lawmakers," 28 Oct. 2020 Since Trump began his presidential run, lobbyists, foreign governments and politicians have lavished significant sums of money on his properties, a spending spree that raised questions about its propriety and legality. Star Tribune, "5 takeaways from NY Times report on Trump's tax returns," 27 Sep. 2020 Barr has defended the propriety of the department’s work. Greg Farrell,, "Barr Violated Election Law, Ethics Groups Say in Call to Impeach," 12 Oct. 2020 Democrats and Republicans spent the morning and early afternoon trading accusations and arguments about Barrett's ideological views, and the propriety of confirming her just weeks before the election. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, "Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as Senate kicks off Supreme Court confirmation hearings," 12 Oct. 2020 The past few years have proved that there is an enormous amount the Republican Party is willing to absorb; cryptic clocks, coded messages, and the sating of Democratic appetites on child-flesh seem as yet just out of the bounds of propriety. Talia Lavin, The New Republic, "QAnon, Blood Libel, and the Satanic Panic," 29 Sep. 2020 Since Trump began his presidential run, lobbyists, foreign governments and politicians have lavished significant sums of money on his properties, a spending spree that raised questions about its propriety and legality. Anchorage Daily News, "5 takeaways from NY Times report on Trump’s tax returns," 28 Sep. 2020 These chat rooms — music, movie, sports, darts and other game rooms — leave critics wondering about propriety. Monica Tapiarené By Ken Hogarty,, "Reader fiction: Throughline inspires short fiction by Bay Area residents," 6 Sep. 2020

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

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First Known Use of propriety

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for propriety

Middle English propriete, from Anglo-French proprieté, propreté property, quality of a person or thing — more at property

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Time Traveler for propriety

Time Traveler

The first known use of propriety was in the 14th century

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Statistics for propriety

Last Updated

13 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Propriety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for propriety


How to pronounce propriety (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of propriety

: behavior that is accepted as socially or morally correct and proper
: the state or quality of being correct and proper
: rules of correct social behavior


pro·​pri·​ety | \ prə-ˈprī-ə-tē How to pronounce propriety (audio) \
plural proprieties

Kids Definition of propriety

1 : correctness in manners or behavior He went beyond the bounds of propriety.
2 : the quality or state of being proper
3 proprieties plural : the rules of correct behavior the proprieties of weddings

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