pro·​pri·​e·​ty prə-ˈprī-ə-tē How to pronounce propriety (audio)
plural proprieties
: the quality or state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness
: conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech
proprieties plural : the customs and manners of polite society
: fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior especially between the sexes
obsolete : true nature
obsolete : a special characteristic : peculiarity

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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.

Example Sentences

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 The pretty, respectful-remembrance version of this history is to say that Springer pushed against TV’s elitist norms of propriety to make the case that ordinary people, in all their mess, were important. James Poniewozik, New York Times, 27 Apr. 2023 For an organization that has long seemed to put profit over propriety, that was all worth voting for. Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 5 Apr. 2023 Their potential conflicts were the focus of attention Wednesday as port commissioners debated for about 20 minutes over the propriety of the two commissioners’ participation in the vote on Amazon’s new enterprise zone incentives. Mike Rogoway |, oregonlive, 26 Jan. 2023 That 10-part dramatization from producer Ryan Murphy and company has been a major viewing attraction according to Netflix, while renewing discussion about the propriety of the media preoccupation with serial killers, and whether the sheer volume of attention somehow glorifies them. Brian Lowry, CNN, 6 Oct. 2022 Some would say by having her diaries published at all: initially in 1947 by her father, Otto Frank, the owner of the warehouse at Prinsengracht 263 and the only survivor of the group, who made omissions for propriety that were restored in later editions. Alexandra Jacobs, New York Times, 17 Jan. 2022 The famously taciturn justice is, once again, facing allegations that call into question the propriety of his conduct while holding a high government post. Jesús Rodríguez, Washington Post, 5 May 2023 His investigation did not assess the propriety of Johnson seeking the loan while in office. Mark Landler,, 28 Apr. 2023 Both of the new chargers include Anker’s PowerIQ 3.0 propriety tech that can identify if a device is asking for a specific charging protocol — including Quick Charge 3.0. Umar Shakir, The Verge, 1 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'propriety.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

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

Dictionary Entries Near propriety

Cite this Entry

“Propriety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural proprieties
: the quality or state of being proper
questioned the propriety of expelling him for such a minor offense
: correctness in manners or behavior : politeness
plural : the rules and customs of behavior followed by polite people

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