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.

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 Bella is a voracious creature, her continual evolution never dulling her lack of propriety and joie de vivre. Maureen Lee Lenker,, 3 Sep. 2023 There had to be at least one other woman with them for the sake of propriety. Katie Hafner, Scientific American, 4 Jan. 2024 And while today’s Kate Middleton is the picture of discretion and propriety, college-aged Kate liked to party. Elise Taylor, Vogue, 14 Dec. 2023 Tradition, or propriety, overrules common sense, sometimes. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 4 Dec. 2023 Kay also challenged the propriety of statements made by the prosecutor during her closing arguments. Steve Henson, Los Angeles Times, 16 Nov. 2023 Asked him about the propriety given he’s charged with conspiring to help Egypt. Tori Otten, The New Republic, 2 Nov. 2023 Routhier says the films utilized Savannah College of Art and Design proprieties and many students worked on the films. Jazz Tangcay, Variety, 24 Oct. 2023 The company also announced a newer version of the second-gen AirPods Pro during its iPhone 15 event earlier this month, one that ships with dust resistance and a charging case that (finally) supports USB-C instead of Apple's propriety Lightning connector. Brandon Widder, The Verge, 23 Sep. 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 24 Feb. 2024.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on propriety

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