I recently visited Jordan on a business trip. Read the following in a newspaper:

Bleeding profusely, she pleaded with the alleged attacker, Mushataq, to take her to a hospital.

My understanding is that if we accuse someone of committing a crime but the proof of the wrongdoing isn't yet found, use the verb allege.

  • Is the phrasing correct or it's a misuse of the verb allege?
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    Dunno about Jordan, but in the US the general tendency in the press is to use "alleged" until the perp is convicted, even if there are Technicolor 3-D movies of him committing the crime, and even if he's written a confession.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 20, 2015 at 17:38
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    @oerkelens - Part of my point is that even if she knew him and had photos of him, in the US it's still "alleged" (or "accused") until he's convicted.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:07
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    @HotLicks: no, that is not the point. She did plead with the attacker. Whoever that was, and whether that was Mushataq or Santa, there is absolutely no allegation about who she pleaded with, that was her attacker. No court case will change that. Now, whether the attacker was mr Mushataq, or whether mr Mushataq was the attacker, that is what you want to carefully word.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:28
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    In journalism it's best to think of the word "alleged" as just a flag raised by the writer saying "not yet proven in court, so don't sue me". Feb 20, 2015 at 18:45
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    @oerkelens - No, it's allegedly poor language. The writer has not been convicted yet.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 20, 2015 at 23:00

5 Answers 5


Alleged (adjective) : said or thought by some people to be the stated bad or illegal thing, although you have no proof. (Cambridge dictionary).

The sentence essentially says the accused man committed the crime. In my opinion, the writer has used "alleged" as a synonym for "accused", though in its objectionable sense.

Another fairer phrasing could be:

  • Bleeding profusely, she pleaded with her attacker- alleged to be Mushataq- to take her to a hospital.

It is routinely applied to actions,events, and things that have been asserted but not proved. In Journalism, the use of "allege or the relative adverb allegedly", protects them from any libel suit.

Some examples:

  • Several alleged drug lords are to be put on trial.

    Opposition parties have protested over alleged vote rigging in the election

    They were in the house when the alleged crime took place.

  • 2
    +1 for spotting the issue that the attacker, whoever he was, was the person she pleaded with, so alleged makes no sense there, and seeing that the addition of the alleged name of the attacker is what caused the problem.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:03
  • So it should be -she pleaded with the alleged attacker (without implying who he is/his name) to take her to a hospital. Feb 20, 2015 at 18:11
  • or when to defend - e.g.- her alleged innocence.
    – ATHENA
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:20
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    @weakphoneme: no. "the alleged attacker" makes no sense. She pleaded with her attacker. It is ridiculous to assume she pleaded with a person she thought might have attacked her. The "alleged" belongs to the name, and the writer just mixed up two sentences that should have stayed apart: She pleaded with her attacker / Mr Mushataq is the alleged attacker.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 20, 2015 at 18:31
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    Alleged used prenominally is certainly an adjective rather than a verb, but a peripheral one. A large diamond is a diamond (intersection). A fake diamond isn't (non-intersection). An alleged criminal?? Feb 20, 2015 at 20:00

Alleged is an adjective:



Said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality:

In that sentence, it correctly modifies attacker as an adjectival use of the past participle form:

mid-15c., "quoted," past participle adjective from allege.

Attested from 1610s in sense of "brought forth in court;" 1670s as "asserted but not proved."

The adjectival use of verbs is quite common as you will find in this link.

As a third party news report in the public realm, inserting the adjective alleged is a professional practice to protect the author and publisher from legal liability. Though she did not plead with her alleged attacker, but with her attacker, the news reporter is prohibited by professional ethics and liability from communicating that assumption to the public, and the simplest linguistic insertion of alleged is a ubiquitous CYA technique in journalism.

The obviously logical:

  • Bleeding profusely, she pleaded with the attacker, Mushataq, to take her to a hospital.

is transformed by liability considerations to:

  • Bleeding profusely, she pleaded with the alleged attacker, Mushataq, to take her to a hospital.

Normally, people ignore the insertion, but from time to time, pedants make hay from the humorous ambiguities the added word can imply.



  • It seems you are saying is that the journalistic CYA usage of the word "alleged" has expanded its meaning to include: "accused (but un-convicted)."
    – Good A.M.
    Mar 7, 2015 at 20:12
  • Yes, @GoodA.M., an accusation is a specific kind of assertion (as implied in the etymology). The phrase "without proof" in the definition seems to be problematic in this usage, because the proof exists in the eyewitness testimony of the victim. It just hasn't been evaluated by a judge and jury.
    – ScotM
    Mar 7, 2015 at 23:46

To be clear, as well as not judging who's guilty or lying, they should have said

  • She reported that she pleaded with her attacker (allegedly Mushataq) to take her to the hospital.

Or, if she knew Mushataq:

  • She reported that she pleaded with Mushataq (allegedly her attacker) to take her to the hospital.

But as noted, it's easier (and typical) for newspaper reporters/editors to just stick in "alleged", even though this caution often errs on the side of inaccuracy.


I'd emphasize that "alleged" refers to a charge or claim, usually by authorities. And "alleged" is not a dodge to avoid libel charges, because, for one thing, it is not a defense for libel. If a statement is defamatory and untrue, that's libel per se. Publishing that a person "was an alleged embezzler" is actionable libel if it's not true.

"Alleged attacker" means the person who authorities are claiming to be the attacker.


You can also look at it this way. The attacker might have not attacked her. She could be bleeding because of her medical condition. The victim accuses the attacker but he might be proven innocent. Hence at the time he is alleged attacker.

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