When used as a verb, the word appropriate means "to take (something) for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission". Basically, stealing.

However, when used as an adjective, the same word means "suitable or proper" — which stealing is definitely not.

So, why is there such a conflict between two meanings of the word?

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    I don't see any conflict - action of allotting resources appropriate to requirement, needs and fit. You are making an issue where there is no issue. Oct 2, 2013 at 0:47
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    Its can be appropriate to appropriate. But its always inappropriate to misappropriate.
    – user53089
    Oct 2, 2013 at 2:25
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    I don't think it's correct to describe appropriate as "basically stealing". Taking without permission is only stealing if you intend to retain ownership of the thing appropriated and if you don't have an acceptable moral justification for taking ownership. Oct 2, 2013 at 12:43

3 Answers 3


I don't think there a conflict between those two meanings of the word, one an adjective and one a verb, but rather that the connection between them can be obscure.

When something is appropriate it is proper: being proper is an attribute or property of the thing. Likewise, when something is deemed proper, that attribution has been established, defined, and in a sense made "real." Here you find that the sense of "real" -- solid, firm, land as in real estate -- and property, something owned, is lurking not too far (ahem) afield from appropriate: something is appropriate when it appears as a valid, acceptable, or real property of some other thing under consideration.

When something is appropriated, its property and ownership status as belonging to or being attributed to (say) person A is shifted or transferred to person B. An appropriated object (etc) contains ownership and property traces of both the former and current "proprietor."

The common link between the two meanings/senses of the word, as adjective and verb, is through the idea of ownership and attribution, the issue being one of a proper belonging-to.

So: a behavior or action is inappropriate when it is seen as not a "proper" attribute -- owned or native characteristic -- of the actor.

A thing is considered appropriated when its possession is seen as not a "proper" attribute -- a native or legitimate characteristic -- of its current proprietor.

The root of the word(s) is in the idea ownership and property.

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/appropriate?q=appropriate http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/property?q=property


The verb means "to make one's own". It doesn't make much sense to make something your own that was already yours before, so to appropriate means "to make something that was owned by someone else your own". So it is not given to you: you take it. Normally, you would specify what you give in exchange for taking something. If you don't, then it seems likely that you take something owned by someone else and give nothing in return. This is usually not appreciated and often illegal.

However, it can also be to mean "to make someone else's own, to set aside for a certain organisation or purpose"; then it isn't negative.

The adjective means "one's own", related to proper. You will have noticed that it is mainly used with things that you cannot really steal some someone, such as behaviour; and the "owner" is usually not a person, but a situation or place. So an undesirable taking prior to the current situation seems unlikely. So it means that the place or situation has the thing that belongs to it, and the thing is at the right place or in the right situation. And that is proper for most things, like behaviour and attire.

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    I agree with you, but I'd like to add that appropriate has an additional meaning as a verb that actually is the opposite of taking. It can mean to set aside or to allot, as in Congress has appropriated funds for the military. But that does still to pertain to possession. Oct 2, 2013 at 0:50
  • @JohnQPublic: Good point, I have added the additional meaning to my answer. Oct 2, 2013 at 1:33

Why is "sound", inter alia, a noun for "aural experience", a noun for "a body of water that separates two close landmasses", an adjective for "dependable, solid, in good health", a verb for making a sound, and a verb for measuring the depth of water? Why is there such a conflict? Because in English, and in many other languages, one word can take on more than one meaning.

  • This is a different matter, as ‘sound, ‘sound’, and ‘sound’ are etymologically unrelated, completely distinct words (from three different languages, even); while ‘appropriate’ and ‘appropriate’ are simply different derivations and developments of the same word (in the same language). Oct 2, 2013 at 11:00
  • This doesn't answer the question. Oct 2, 2013 at 11:43

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