pro·​pri·​e·​ty | \prə-ˈprī-ə-tē \
plural proprieties

Definition of propriety 

1 obsolete : true nature

2 obsolete : a special characteristic : peculiarity

3 : the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness

4a : conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech

b : fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior especially between the sexes

c proprieties plural : the customs and manners of polite society

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Synonyms & Antonyms for propriety


decency, decorum, form


impropriety, indecency, indecorum

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

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 Former First Lady Michelle Obama endured her share 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," 22 June 2018 Highlands paid Fowler's consulting firm $13,000 in October before canceling the contract when the school principal questioned its propriety. Diana Lambert, sacbee, "Adult charter could lose state funds, face sanctions after state review finds questionable practices," 3 July 2018 But back in Victorian times, the gravity of propriety went much deeper than knowing the proper etiquette for shaking hands or which fork to use during the dessert course. Katie Robinson, Town & Country, "11 Ridiculous Etiquette Rules from Victorian Times," 1 May 2017 The historian Ellen Gruber Garvey suggests a second possible reason: propriety already allowed unmarried women to ride horses unchaperoned. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "The Wheel, the Woman, and the Human Body," 6 July 2018 Saturday’s surreal disregard for propriety won’t dent Mickelson’s popularity — not after his tone-deaf comments about taxes and an investigation into insider trading. Marcus Hayes,, "Phil Mickelson should be gone but officials turn a blind eye at the U.S. Open | Marcus Hayes," 16 June 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.

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First Known Use of propriety

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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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Statistics for propriety

Last Updated

22 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for propriety

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

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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

proprieties : rules of correct social behavior


pro·​pri·​ety | \prə-ˈprī-ə-tē \
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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Comments on propriety

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