I have come across this word in a book; it gives the example:

If a layman says “I now pronounce you man and wife,” it doesn't make the couple husband and wife.

But when the same words are spoken by a priest, it makes them husband and wife.

The word possibly starts with either "i" or "l".

  • 3
    They're performative verbs (this question might be a dup of the one I linked to there). The only reason it makes a difference whether a priest or a layman speaks your cited example is because some people wouldn't recognise the authority of anyone except a priest to marry people. But anyone could say I promise [something], in which case the act of saying it is the same thing as the act of promising itself. Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 16:59
  • 4
    The word you are thinking of may be illocutionary, one of the speech acts: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_act#Illocutionary_acts
    – Shoe
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 17:33
  • Thanks for the answer. It is the word I am looking for. I love the forum :)
    – Wai Yan
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 17:40
  • 2
    In my opinion the example sentence "I now pronounce you man and wife" has the same meaning regardless of who says it, but it has a different effect depending on whether the speaker is legally empowered to conduct weddings.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:36
  • 1
    'performative utterance_illocutionary act'. Where spoken words (like handshakes and signatures) are seen to confer change in status (weddedness, change of ownership ...) authority (together with the legal framework) is the key issue. With 'creative words', power is another key issue. The supernatural complicates things. Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 10:56

3 Answers 3


In reference to a comment posted by Shoe and a comment posted by Edwin Ashworth, the phrase you are looking for is Illocutionary acts.

This was defined by John L. Austin as follows:

I explained the performance of an act in this new and second sense as the performance of an 'illocutionary' act, i.e. the performance of an act in saying something as opposed to the performance of an act of saying something — J. L. Austin, ed. J. O. Ursom, How to Do Things with Words, 2011, Clarendon Press, Oxford.


In the case of the priest saying the words, the priest is empowered to give them special weight and significance.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of empower:

1 : to give official authority or legal power to
// empowered her attorney to act on her behalf


The priest empowered the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife."
The priest was empowered to make the everyday phrase spiritually and legally binding.

Alternatively, if it really is a word that has to start with i, then the priest imbues the words with special significance.

From Merriam-Webster's definition of imbue:

1 : ENDOW sense 3
// Spanish missions imbue the city with Old World charm
— Scott Pendleton

Endow sense 3
: to provide with something freely or naturally
// endowed with a good sense of humor



-Commanding and self-confident; likely to be respected and obeyed. ‘his voice was calm and authoritative’

-Proceeding from an official source and requiring compliance or obedience. ‘authoritative directives’

from Lexico.com, the free Oxford English Dictionary https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/authoritative

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.