After stumbling across this term, and looking up it's corresponding definition, I find myself very dissatisfied with how it's defined.

For example, the official definition is this: 'in fact, whether by right or not'.

I first read that as saying that it means to state a fact whether it is right or not (which of course makes no sense), but then noticed it said 'whether by right or not'. So then I wondered what on earth this 'right' is. Upon further reading, from other sources, it says that it is some sort of fact that is true regardless of human constructed law, or more bluntly, it is right whether we like it or not.

The primary issue here though, is that every example/explanation of the term is far from clear, as it's riddled with complex terminology and ambiguity.

What's needed, I feel, is a very simple, down to earth example of 'De facto' and/or a definition with which the everyday man can understand.

  • Your confusion arises from your misunderstanding of the phrase by right; consider consulting other dictionaries for alternative wording. I think CALD's definition is clearer: existing in ​fact, ​although ​perhaps not ​intended, ​legal, or ​accepted.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 1:55
  • Without referring to any dictionary, I'd describe it as meaning that the thing being discussed is "a given" or "the facts on the ground" or whatever -- regardless of what you feel about it's legitimacy it's there and there's no sense with arguing about it. Eg, many people felt Woodrow Wilson's wife was the de facto president for the last two years of his term, after he was disabled by stroke.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


From Wikipedia--

De facto (/dɨ ˈfæktoʊ/, /deɪ-/,[1] Latin: [deː ˈfaktoː]) is a Latin expression that means "in fact, in reality, in actual existence, force, or possession, as a matter of fact" (literally "from fact").[2][3] In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure (which means "according to (the) law"; literally "from law") when referring to matters of law, governance, or technique (such as standards) that are found in the common experience as created or developed without or contrary to a regulation. When discussing a legal situation, de jure designates what the law says, while de facto designates action of what happens in practice.

To illustrate, the United Kingdom officially recognizes English as the official state language. It is recognized by law, and is therefore a de jure official language. In the US, on the other hand, there is no law recognizing any official language, even though virtually all official government business is conducted in English. That makes it a de facto official language.

Similarly, in the Jim Crow (pre-civil rights) South, segregation of the races was permitted by law. This is de jure segregation. As these laws were nullified, segregation continued in some places due to housing patterns and school districting, among other factors. Although segregation is not officially permitted, it may continue anyway. This is de facto segregation.

Although anything that is de jure is by logic also de facto, de facto is generally used to mean "in reality but not by force of law".

  • Hey Steven, thanks for your answer. It's helped cleared things up a bit. What I just realised also is that, perhaps, the jure in de jure, is strongly related to jury, where facto in de facto means fact. Maybe am wrong, though it would be interesting coincidence if that not be the case! By the way, you say that logic dictates that something that is de jure is also de facto, but what if a law is enforced yet not really recognised by members and enforcers of society, like J walking? Would this make J walking de jure ,but not de facto? Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 3:44
  • Jury, jurisdiction, jurisprudence, etc., all relate to the Latin juris (iuris in Caesar's day) meaning "right". Unfortunately, I understand that jay as in jaywalking comes from obsolete slang in which jay = a fool. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 4:19
  • Cheers Steven :) Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 6:24
  • An aside: I'm not at all sure that the UK has an official state language 'recognised by law'. I'm pretty sure that Wales does (and the status of Welsh may be matched by English in that Principality), but the UK as a whole? Any reference?
    – JHCL
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 12:28

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