I'm looking for a single word or term that describes "the degree of being allowed", if you will, both in the positive sense (permission) and the negative sense (restricition).

As a technical example, a user could be allowed to edit a file, but restricted from creating new files (explicitly restricted, as opposed to just not having the permission).

A non-technical example would be an employee who is allowed to sign contracts on behalf of the company, but is explicitly forbidden from talking to the press on company matters (because that didn't work out well the last time).

In each case, the word I'm looking for would encompass both. For example if X is my word, the folder in the employee's file that contains the list of things they may or may not do could be titled "Steve's Xs".

The best word I can come up with is "access" or "access level", but that's not quite what I want because it's constraining the use to only a subset of imaginable permissions/restrictions (e.g. it would work for the first example, but not really for the second one).

On the other end of the spectrum, the word "options" came to my mind, but that's 1) really too broad, and 2) has the connotation of choice, which isn't what I want.

  • I must ask, are restrictions not simply a lack of permissions and thus nearly the same thing? To justify this a little, thinking in the context of computing, a user is assumed to have no permissions until they are granted and so restrictions are a simple lack of being given permissions.
    – Vality
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 16:23
  • @Vality Not necessarily. Think of law, where anything that's not forbidden explicitly is legal. Or more general, you can have a baseline where some things are allowed, and from there you can go either way, adding more permissions or make things more restricted.
    – balpha
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 17:29
  • Indeed - whether permissions are assumed to exist or not depends on the system; sometimes it's undefined. Gets more complicated, too, when you have inheritance - say, a person hasn't been given access to a folder, but Sales has, and they're in Sales. Does "hasn't been given access" mean "has been denied access?" If so, does a user being denied access override their group being granted access? What if they're in two groups, and one is denied and the other is granted? Security is complicated. :)
    – neminem
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 22:32
  • If "Authorizations" doesn't work, Capabilities might... though that implies 'what can the person do, rather than what they are allowed to do".
    – Beejamin
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 16:11

12 Answers 12


Scope, as in scope of responsibility, is used to delineate the extent and limit of a person's responsibility or assignment.

scope Syllabification: scope Pronunciation: /skōp/ NOUN

  1. The extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant: we widened the scope of our investigation such questions go well beyond the scope of this book.
  2. The opportunity or possibility to do or deal with something: the scope for major change is always limited by political realities


  • I am not a native speaker, but I don't think scope is a good term for that. Seems way way more general with no hint that you speak of permissions/restrictions.
    – Tomas
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 9:30
  • You are right, @Tomas, in that only in context would the word's intended meaning be clear--as is often the case. Most words have multiple meanings and many concepts have no single, dedicated word that always clearly signifies that concept alone regardless of context. But you probably understand that very well already.
    – GMB
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 13:01

What the employee and user have is "limited clearance."

The terms "limited permission" or "restricted access" are other options.

Overall, the word "clearance" may suffice.

Try the word "purview."

It means the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention.

  • 1
    "Clearance" is not a bad solution, but it stresses the "permission" part more than the "restriction" part. "Steve's clearance includes not being allowed to talk to the press" sounds a bit strange.
    – balpha
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 11:26
  • 1
    That is why we should paraphrase. Instead, we can say "Steve's clearance doesn't allow him to talk to the press." Makes more sense doesn't it. Use your discretion, and proper diction and you are good to go.
    – vickyace
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 11:41

A technical word commonly used for both of those (in a technical scope) is the word privilege. You can talk about a privilege being both explicitly granted (to edit a particular file) or explicitly denied (being able to create new files, in a folder or globally), and any technical person would probably know what you meant.

Admittedly, that's not perfect either, as it really does have a strong association with "being done on a computing device". I could say someone has or has been explicitly denied the priv to annotate a (digital) document, or to view a particular computer, but it'd be super weird to say someone has or has been explicitly denied the priv to mark up a (paper) document, or to walk into a particular room, for instance.


"license", "authority" and "dispensation" allow, IMO, both +ve (permission) and -ve (restriction) to be expressed:

the folder in the employee's file that contains the list of things they may or may not do could be titled "Steve's authority" or "Steve's license" (I prefer the first).

  • 1
    Indeed, "authority" comes pretty close to what I was imagining. Ideally I would have a word that can refer to a single instance (i.e. a permission is an X and a restriction is also an X), but there probably isn't such a word.
    – balpha
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 11:50

It is a twist but I think permission itself covers both permission and restriction because it also has the sense of permission level.

Below is an example from Amazon cloud. Permission level of an item is defined under "permissions" tab:

enter image description here

I gave a technical example but it can be used in non-technical sense also.

  • 2
    I agree: in technical context this is absolutely true. May fail in nuances of non-technical speach though. +1
    – Tomas
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 9:32

Rules - Generic term for defining the boundary of interactions.

Laws - Legal rules documenting the rights and responsibilities of those governed by them.

Protocol - A set of rules defining the nature of the interaction (eg HTTP).

Policy - "a principle or protocol to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes."

  • "Steve's Rules" meets the criteria.
    – D Krueger
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 18:42

Access Control List or an ACL - these are oft used terms in computing to describe permission levels, permissions granted and permissions denied.


Clearance/authorization (as in clearance to sign contrasts on the company's behest or clearance to edit files).


"Controls," as in access control list, is the IT Security term you'd use. They fit under the general scope of authorization (authentication and authorization being the two large umbrellas of "saying who I am" and "what can I do" in security).


Consider commission. As defined in Merriam-Webster

an authorization or command to act in a prescribed manner or to perform prescribed acts

Many commissions include the exact scope of authority, so they may list both prescribed and proscribed behaviors.

  • 1
    What about this word? Constraints. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 6:13
  • @datasmid Sounds promising. Offer it as an answer.
    – bib
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 11:13

One thing to consider is whether you're operating in "Prussian" or "French" mode:

Prussia: Anything not explicitly allowed, is prohibited.

France: Anything not explicitly prohibited, is allowed.

This would be the "default" permission. I think that ultimately, the answer will depend on exactly what domain you're operating in (a computer OS, a legal system, something else). A term that is a good fit for one may be very bad for another.


When you are describing the formal list of things someone can and cannot do in general terms (i.e. not specific technical or I.T. terms) you are describing their "level of authority".

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