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

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 Holly and Nina’s alleged experiences, along with those of the other women, seem to fit in with a pattern of celebrity being used to eschew propriety. Marisa Kabas, Rolling Stone, 2 Jan. 2022 The ornithology community has been wrestling with the propriety of maintaining honorific bird names, given the actions of many of the people—overwhelmingly white men—for whom the birds were named. Kate Sayers, Smithsonian Magazine, 24 June 2021 At such moments Keane acutely captures the loneliness of a young person in a world of propriety where so much goes unspoken. Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books, 22 Nov. 2018 Not every topic lends itself to a subversion, or to showing off how little one cares about propriety. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 2 Dec. 2021 Correspondent Luke Burbank visits the Alcor Corporation, where some very patient patients are being held for an uncertain future, and talks with a neuroethicist about the lethal and moral propriety of cryonics. CBS News, 24 Nov. 2021 The raw data from the reports will not be made public for propriety reasons, but summary data will be available. Geneva Sands, CNN, 5 Aug. 2021 Bourgeois propriety often seems to prefer a clear distinction between grief and jubilation. New York Times, 15 Sep. 2021 But opinions are divided over the propriety of Noem's actions as many wait for more information to emerge about what happened in the meeting. Maeve Reston, CNN, 7 Oct. 2021

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

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

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Last Updated

18 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Propriety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

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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
: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on propriety

Nglish: Translation of propriety for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of propriety for Arabic Speakers


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