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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for propriety


decency, decorum, form


impropriety, indecency, indecorum

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Did You Know?

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

These undergarments only emerged during the colonial era due to British notions of propriety. Meara Sharma, Vogue, "Why I Am Taking the Sari Back to the Street," 30 Apr. 2019 Even so, sticklers for journalistic propriety found this a trifle inappropriate. The Economist, "Sean Hannity shares a lot with Donald Trump, including an attorney," 19 Apr. 2018 The brand teamed up with the University of Delaware to develop a propriety fabric infused with a gel-like chemical solution that stays in liquid form when still or slow-moving, but stiffens when in motion. Megan Ditrolio, Marie Claire, "Reebok's New Sports Bra Uses Space Technology for Maximum Support," 17 Aug. 2018 Defense attorneys have had success attacking the propriety of grand juries in Wyandotte County before. Steve Vockrodt, kansascity, "Jeff Henry's lawyer: 'There isn't a day where he doesn't think of Caleb Schwab' | The Kansas City Star," 5 Apr. 2018 Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch questioned the propriety of a Supreme Court precedent from 1977—relied upon heavily by Apple—that under federal law limits claims for antitrust damages to immediate victims of the anticompetitive conduct. Brent Kendall, WSJ, "Apple’s App Store Under Fire in Supreme Court Case," 26 Nov. 2018 Former first lady Michelle Obama endured plenty of public punches over eight years, with pearl-clutchers crowing about propriety because—horror of horrors—the woman wasn't shy about exposing her arms and legs in sleeveless tops and shorts. Perrie Samotin, Glamour, "A History of Melania Trump's Most Talked-About Fashion Moments," 5 Oct. 2018 Think of the show was a Spanish Downton Abbey, with lots of propriety, a potential murder mystery, and plenty of class intrigue, set against the backdrop of a beautiful luxury hotel. Cady Drell, Marie Claire, "Here Are the Most Exciting New Shows This Fall," 17 July 2018 The official dress code for the Wimbledon 2018 tournament harkens back to standards set in the Victorian era, when players wore white for propriety’s sake as it was believed that white showed less sweat. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Why Wimbledon Players Have to Wear All White," 2 July 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about propriety

Statistics for propriety

Last Updated

10 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for propriety

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for propriety



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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on propriety

What made you want to look up propriety? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


behavior toward others

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!