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What is the difference between to allege and to claim? Can I use them interchangeably? Or perhaps I can only allege something illegal?

For example, from CNET:

Over the past several months, the two companies have been embroiled in litigation in which Apple alleges that Samsung illegally copied technology and design aspects of the iPad to create the Galaxy Tab.

If I replace alleges with claims, does it change the meaning at all?

13

Alleges means:

to state something as a fact but without giving proof

It is very similar to claims, but it is used in situations where there is a legal accusation which has not yet been resolved. For example, Apple here alleges Samsung copied technology. This may or may not be true, but in any case it is a legal claim.

You could use claims, but it wouldn't have the same connotations.

  • 6
    Agreed, an allegation implies some kind of accusation, whereas a claim is just a statement of (unproven) fact. – Joel Brown Sep 14 '11 at 0:02
  • Does such an accusation have to be a legal one? – netvope Sep 14 '11 at 20:00
  • @netvope no, but that's how I've heard it used most often – simchona Sep 14 '11 at 21:17
3
+50

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms 1984) puts allege in a group of verbs with adduce, advance, and cite; and it puts claim in a group of verbs with demand, require, and exact. Here are its treatments of the two verbs:

adduce, advance, allege, cite may be used interchangeably in the meaning to bring forward by way of explanation, proof, illustration, or demonstration; however, they usually are clearly distinguishable in their implications and in their idiomatic associations. ... Allege may indicate a bringing forward or stating as if needing no proof {younger scholars nevertheless can allege a very strong point on their side—H. M. Jones} It may on the other hand stress doubt about or a disclaimer of responsibility for the truth of matter under discussion {those whose senses are alleged to be subject to supernatural impressions—Le Fanu} Its participial adjective alleged, especially, often serves as disclaimer of responsibility for the assertion {an alleged miracle} {the alleged thief} {the presence, real or alleged, of some hostile group—Dewey} ...

...

Demand, claim, require, exact are comparable not as close synonyms but as sharing the basic meaning to ask or call for something as due or as necessary or as strongly desired. ... Claim implies a demanding either of the delivery or concession of something due one as one's own, one's right, or one's prerogative or of the admission or recognition of something which one asserts or affirms; thus, one who claims a piece of property demands its delivery to him as his own; one who claims that he has solved a problem demands recognition of the truth of his assertion {there is no right to freedom or life. But each man does claim such freedom—Alexander} {a genius, say his detractors, can be perverse, and they claim the right to tell this genius when and where and why he is perverse—Read}

Harry Shaw, Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions 1975) likewise puts alleged and claim in different word groups: alleged with accused and suspected, and claim with demand. Here are the discussions of the relevant words in this dictionary:

alleged, accused, suspected. Each of these words is used to refer to persons involved in legal problems. To allege means "to state positively," "to assert without proof," or "to urge as an excuse or reason." ... One cannot allege a swindler, but rather a condition or a crime. ...

...

demand, claim. ... Claim means "to assert a right": "The driver claimed that he was entitled to a hearing." Claim should not be used when you mean say, assert, state, or declare unless a right is involved: "The student claimed his right to an examination." "The student asserted (or said or stated or declared) that he was going to college."

And finally S.I. Hayakawa, Choose the Right Word: A Modern Guide to Synonyms (1968) places allege with affirm, assert, asseverate, aver, avouch, avow, maintain, and testify and places claim with demand, ask, exact, order, request, and require. Here are Hayakawa's entries for the words:

assert, affirm, allege, asseverate, aver, avouch, avow, maintain, testify These verbs all mean to state positively, as though anticipating or countering argument or skepticism. Whereas assert means to state with some force or conviction, allege means to state without offering proof: It was alleged that he was present at the scene of the crime, but he asserted that he was in Europe at the time. Whatever one asserts he would defend in argument, but whether anyone believes something alleged is beside the point; the aim of alleging is to learn the truth by proving or disproving the claim made. ...

...

demand, ask, claim, exact, order, request, require These verbs all refer to rather forceful communications between a speaker and another person. ... Claim and exact involve a slightly different situation than these other words. Claim suggests that a right has been asserted: claiming this land in the name of the queen; unions that claimed a right to share in the company's profits.

It thus appears that all three of these reference works treat allege as fundamentally involving an assertion of factuality without proof, and claim as fundamentally involving an assertion of a right, with or without supporting evidence.

In real-world practice, of course, most people make no such distinction between the two words. Here are their entries in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003):

allege vt (14c) 1 archaic : to adduce or bring forward as a source or authority 2 : to assert without proof or before proving {the newspaper alleges the mayor's guilt} 3 : to bring forward as a reason or excuse

...

claim vt (14c) 1 a : to ask for esp. as a right {claimed the inheritance} b : to call for : REQUIRE {this matter claims our attention} c : TAKE [in the sense of "to put an end to (life)" or "to remove by death"] {the accident claimed her life} 2 : to take as the rightful owner {went to claim their bags at the station} 3 a : to assert in the face of possible contradiction : MAINTAIN {claimed that he'd been cheated} b : to claim to have {organization ... which claims 11,000 ... members —Rolling Stone} c : to assert to be rightfully one's own {claimed responsibility for the attack}

Some of the two words' meanings are obviously nonoverlapping. But "to assert without proof or before proving," "to bring forward as a reason or excuse," and "to assert in the face of possible contradiction : MAINTAIN" seem to me to have so much in common that it's really difficult to tell which of these definitions go with allege and which with claim. The relative newcomer among these three definitions in the one for claim—"to assert in the face of possible contradiction : MAINTAIN"—which the Seventh Collegiate (1963) lists in identical language, but which the Sixth Collegiate (1949) omits, as you can see here:

claim v.t. 1. To ask for, or seek to obtain, by virtue of authority, right, or supposed right; to demand as due. 2. To assert as a fact, right, or relation which ought to to be acknowledged; as to claim the championship. 3. To call for; require; as, the subject claims our attention.

The Sixth Collegiate's definition 1 of claim clearly corresponds to the Seventh's (and Eleventh's) definition 1(a); the Sixth's definition 2 to the Seventh's and Eleventh's definition 2, and Sixth's definition 3 to the Seventh (and Eleventh's) definition 1(b). That leaves definition 3 of the Seventh (and Eleventh) with no counterpart in previous editions.

I have no doubt that English speakers and writers were using claim in the sense of "to assert in the face of possible contradiction" long before 1963, but they did so against the advice of usage commentators who argued that proper use of claim as a verb always implied some sort of demand for vindication of an underlying right or prerogative. Because English speakers and writers often chose to use claim in a sense extremely similar to "to assert without proof or before proving," they brought the word into close orbit with allege, leading to questions such as the OP's here.

  • We can also claim that somebody accused someone of doing or saying something illegal, .e.g. Insiders claim that Apple accused Samsung of copying a significant number of features from the iPhone – Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '16 at 8:49
  • The distinction between factuality and right is primarily what I was expecting here. It's odd that none specifically treat agency or objectiveness, or lack thereof, in their explanations, but then none were directly comparing the two words. The bounty is yours. – Phil Sweet Dec 15 '16 at 13:42
1

To allege is always to accuse a party (human or corporate) of wrongdoing. You may, however, claim something without the accusation of wrongdoing.

For example:

  • You can claim that a new product is far superior to its competitors
  • You can claim that a storm damaged your conservatory by blowing your neighbour's tree down so that it fell on the conservatory
  • You can claim that the dog ate your homework

In none of these situations are you accusing anyone of anything (except, possibly, the dog. But he isn't a legally responsible entity and you aren't asking your teacher to take action against him).

You can claim that someone is guilty of wrongdoing against you but this can be less aggressive that accusing them of it. For example:

  • You can claim that a rival's product breaches a patent you hold in some significant detail.
  • You can claim that a neighbour's tree is damaging your conservatory because the branches are scratching the glass and wearing away the frame
  • You can claim that your sister spilt coffee over your homework

If you claim negligence or deliberate wrongdoing on the part of another this is the same as alleging it:

  • You can claim or allege that a rival has copied your patented product deliberately.
  • You can claim or allege that your neighbour has cut down his tree so carelessly or incompetently that it has fallen on your conservatory
  • You can claim or allege that the class bully has thrown your homework into the river.

There is an overlap in the meaning but allege is stronger, more associated with criminality and tends to imply a higher standard of proof. Claim is wider in application, slightly gentler and somewhat less formal in its implications.

  • In a formal register, allege has no implication of wrongdoing. In fact, it is used because it is a more objective term than claim, which has additional, and often unmerited connotations. Allege will almost always be used for third person in a formal register. Claim would be reserved for first person where there is a vested interest. Claim can't quite divorce itself from the idea of laying claim to. People are alleged to have done great and wonderful thing all the time. That's why we can talk about the alleged hero - someone alleged he was one, or he claimed to be one himself. – Phil Sweet Dec 13 '16 at 14:47
  • If one wants to allege wrongdoing, they must include the word wrongdoing.legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/allegation – Phil Sweet Dec 13 '16 at 14:58
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The only difference is one of diction. "Alleges" is in a much higher register than "claims." "Alleges" is also preferred in legal contexts.

0

In the legal context, "allege" usually means a statement regarding the truth or falsity of something: e.g. A and B were married on February 20, 1986.

"Claim" is usually used in the sense of "claim for relief," which means what you are asking the court to order: e.g. A asks this court to dissolve the marriage of the parties.

In these examples, if A files the petition, then B might admit or deny certain factual allegations in A's petition, but, given that no-fault divorces are the norm, B would probably not contest or counterclaim against A's claim for relief (to divorce the parties).

That said, even in informal conversations between lawyers, "claim" will sometimes be used in the sense of "allegation."

I think the other commentators might be correct as far as connotation, I just wanted to add my 2 cents.

  • 1
    This would be a stronger answer if you had some citations for your information, from, say, a legal dictionary or something like that. – Katherine Lockwood Dec 13 '16 at 0:02
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Allege is used when no evidence is available so it is not sure or accurate yet. It is a statement that is made without giving proof, accusing somebody of doing something that is wrong or illegal.

Claim is used when evidence is available and it is sure and true.

the two words are not the same and cannot be used interchangeably.

  • What make you think that to claim is used when evidence is available. This dictionary definition disagrees with you, and so do I – Lucky Apr 27 '15 at 11:30
  • Thanks Lucky for the comment which I do respect highly but we are not talking here about "Dictionary Definitions" otherwise the question is not required. I do believe strongly in what I wrote from Commercial & Legal perspectives not only word meaning from language perspective. – Yahya May 4 '15 at 8:00

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