I'm specifically referring to a someone which one shouldn't have, from the speaker's perspective.

For example:

"We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this ?????? power."

Where the '?' describes the fact that the power shouldn't be theirs or is unfounded. (1 word)

I think the word I'm looking for is closely synonymous with 'undeserving', as I don't think 'undeserving' is grammatically correct in this context...


12 Answers 12


... with this arrogated power.

All dictionaries will have a definition similar to "taken or claimed without right or justification".

  • This is the best answer here IMO.
    – barbecue
    Commented Mar 7 at 23:15

Unmerited is a good match for your meaning:

not adequately earned or deserved : not merited


To focus on shouldn't I think usurped is appropriate [Cambridge Dictionary usurp]:

to take control of a position of power, especially without having the right to

We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this usurped power.

Less obscure could be illegitimate Cambridge Dictionary:

not legal or fair:

The rebels regard the official parliament as illegitimate.


Unwarranted would work in this context. Warranted means (OED)

Allowed by law or authority; approved, justified, sanctioned.

and so unwarranted would be something that not approved, justified, or sanctioned.

  • unwarranted can also mean disproportionate to the needs of the occasion; because of that ambiguity, I would not use it in the given context. Commented Mar 7 at 3:05
  • unwarranted power wins the Ngram over unmerited power and arrogated power.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 7 at 7:26
  • 1
    Ngrams don't show usage in a particular sense, just absolute usage.
    – fectin
    Commented Mar 9 at 0:05
  • That's why you can't add assume power or it blows the curve. "too much political baggage"
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 9 at 6:45

In a political register, assumed works:

  • We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this assumed power.

assume: seize; usurp

  • assume control


(In other contexts, assumed has of course other default meanings.)

  • Even though it wins the Ngram, it has too much political baggage. Are we talking about overthrowing the entire government, or just pissed off that garbage pickup is now on Thursdays.
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 7 at 7:29
  • The same can be said for all the other answers; the context ('We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this Ø power') disambiguates in each case. Commented Mar 8 at 16:35

undeserving is wrong because it would describe how the power acts. But the same concept can be applied correctly with undeserved, which refers to how the power was achieved -- it didn't deserve it. Similarly, if someone receives praise for something they didn't actually do, we would say they're "undeserved compliments".


Ill-gotten is a term indicating that something has been gained through illegal or unfair means. It implies not just that the thing in question should not be held by the person who has it, but also that they did something unscrupulous to get it.


A less specific term, which might be more accessible to a wider audience, is purloined.

purloin (v): to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust (Merriam-Webster.com)1

"legislators from the rural prison counties often use this purloined power to vote against the interests of the urban communities from which prison inmates most typically come. " -- Prisoners of the Census (about prisoners counting towards the Census power of the locations where they are imprisoned without being able to vote.)

"This meritless lawsuit is designed to rally progressives to defend California’s purloined power to regulate fuel economy." -- Fuel Economy: California (about claims of inappropriate government lobbying activity.)


One legal term is

ultra vires

beyond the legal power or authority of the person performing an action

The company's actions in entering into a contract with him were ultra vires, and therefore the contract was void.
A shareholder could restrain the company from undertaking ultra vires activities.

From Cambridge Dictionary.

The sentence could be

We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable using this ultra vires power.

Or more concisely

We shouldn't allow the government to use this ultra vires power.

  • As the quotations make clear, an act that is performed ultra vires is void, because one doesn't really have the power to perform it. That doesn't seem to be quite what the OP has in mind. In the OP's example, as I understand it, the government does have the power, and its acts are not void; it's just that it has obtained the power in a way that is, from the speaker's viewpoint, improper.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 6 at 21:47
  • @jsw the question also states "the power is unfounded" IOW it doesn't actually have that power. Commented Mar 6 at 21:48
  • "Power" isn't ultra vires, actions are.
    – fectin
    Commented Mar 9 at 0:06

There are several good answers here, but I'll add misappropriated and its lightly harsher cousin malappropriated, which both mean to take control of something inappropriately.

Misappropriated means that a party was in a position of trust to manage or control something, but then abused that trust by exceeding the granted authority, usually by directing resources away from their intended target for personal gain or benefit, or by exceeding the amount of usage allowed.

Misappropriated is often used in financial terms to refer to someone making use of funds in a way that they are not supposed to, but it can also be used to refer to misuse of other things, such as property, materials, or as in this example, power.

When the rule of law has been ignored on a political whim, we feel it reverberate in ways that seem to shake us to the core. Misappropriated power thrives where rule of law ends.

Malappropriated has a slightly stronger implication of deliberate malice, but both indicate dishonesty and a violation of trust.


Unchecked is frequently used in your context in the sense of "growing more than deserved".

"We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this unchecked power."


unchecked ADJECTIVE
If something harmful or undesirable is left unchecked, nobody controls it or prevents it from growing or developing.

This provision gives the president total and unchecked power.

  • But this doesn't say how exactly the power was gotten in the first place, which is the demand of the question. You can say it's the consequence of arrogated power. BTW, I'm not the downvoter.
    – user405662
    Commented Mar 7 at 15:17

I think we are all agreed that one should not steal, and that stealing is a way of coming into unauthorised possession of something:

"We shouldn't allow the government to get comfortable with this kleptocratic power."


Etymology: klepto- Forming words in which it has the sense ‘theft, thieving’, as kleptocracy, kleptomania. Plus -cracy: From French ‑cratie < post-classical Latin ‑cratia < Greek κρατία (in compounds) power, rule, < κράτος strength, might, rule, authority.

kleptocratic Of, designating, or relating to a kleptocracy.

2001 After a decade of robber baron capitalism that burned Western investors, these bosses now say that kleptocratic practices proved a dead end for a country with an annual gross domestic product of $300 billion. Business Week 12 November 70/1

kleptocracy: A ruling body or order of thieves. Also, government by thieves; a nation ruled by this kind of government.

  • 1
    I would read that as “power that allows or encourages the state to become more kleptocratic”, rather than “stolen power”. Commented Mar 7 at 3:06
  • kleptocratic power would be power that enables rule by stealing.
    – fectin
    Commented Mar 9 at 0:08
  • @fectin I think you need to consider the tenor of the example, and realise that this is a more figurative/emotional use.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 9 at 11:17

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