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Courtesy vs. Curtesy: What's the Difference?

By Aimie Carlson & Harlon Moss || Updated on March 4, 2024
Courtesy refers to polite behavior, respect, and manners shown by individuals, while curtesy is a legal term denoting the life interest a surviving husband has in the estate of his deceased wife.

Key Differences

Courtesy embodies the concept of politeness and good manners that individuals exhibit towards each other in social settings. It encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including using polite language, showing respect, and adhering to societal norms of etiquette. Curtesy, on the other hand, represents a specific legal right that applies within the context of property law, granting a surviving husband a life interest in his deceased wife's property under certain conditions.
While courtesy is universally applicable and encouraged across various cultures and societies as a fundamental aspect of social interaction, curtesy is subject to legal stipulations and varies significantly from one jurisdiction to another. Courtesy aims to facilitate smooth and harmonious interactions among people, whereas curtesy serves to protect the financial interests of a surviving spouse, ensuring he has a place to live or income after his wife's death.
The principles of courtesy can be taught and learned, evolving with societal changes and cultural shifts. It reflects the current social norms and expectations regarding behavior. Conversely, curtesy is defined by law and requires specific legal conditions to be met, such as the marriage's legality and the existence of issue born alive from the marriage, for the right to take effect.
Courtesy affects interpersonal relationships and can influence one's social standing, reputation, and the quality of interactions with others. It is often reciprocal, with acts of courtesy fostering goodwill and positive relationships. Curtesy, however, is not about social interaction but a legal entitlement, and its applicability is solely dependent on the fulfillment of legal criteria rather than mutual exchange or social conduct.
Courtesy and curtesy may sound similar, they operate in entirely different realms courtesy in the realm of social conduct and curtesy within the legal domain regarding property rights. One reflects an aspect of character and social interaction, and the other a specific legal provision for surviving spouses.

Comparison Chart


Politeness and respect in behavior and actions.
Legal right of a husband to wife's property after her death.


Universal in social interactions.
Applicable in specific legal contexts.


To facilitate harmonious social relations.
To provide financial security to surviving husbands.


Social and cultural norms.
Legal criteria, such as validity of marriage and birth of issue.


Affects social standing and interpersonal relations.
Affects property rights and inheritance.

Courtesy and Curtesy Definitions


The foundation of positive interpersonal relationships.
Practicing courtesy helps build goodwill among colleagues.


Protects a surviving spouse financially.
Curtesy ensured he had a home after his wife's passing.


Adherence to social etiquette.
Offering your seat to an elderly person is considered common courtesy.


A form of life estate.
Through curtesy, he retained use of the property for his lifetime.


The practice of good manners.
Sending a thank-you note after an interview is a courtesy.


Part of common law inheritance rights.
Curtesy was common in jurisdictions following English common law.


Polite behavior.


A husband's legal right to his deceased wife's property.
He inherited the house through curtesy upon his wife's death.


A polite gesture or remark.


Applies only under certain legal conditions.
Curtesy is contingent on the couple having had children.


Consent or agreement in spite of fact; indulgence
They call this pond a lake by courtesy only.


The life tenure that by common law is held by a man over the property of his deceased wife if children with rights of inheritance were born during the marriage.


Willingness or generosity in providing something needed
Free advertising through the courtesy of the local newspaper.


The tenure that a man is entitled to over the property of his deceased wife if there is a child who could inherit it.


Given or done as a polite gesture
Paid a courtesy visit to the new neighbors.


The life estate which a husband has in the lands of his deceased wife, which by the common law takes effect where he has had issue by her, born alive, and capable of inheriting the lands.


Free of charge
Courtesy tickets for the reporters.


(uncountable) Polite behavior.
Please extend them the courtesy of your presence.
He was always known for his grace, kindness, and courtesy to people of every rank.


(countable) A polite gesture or remark, especially as opposed to an obligation or standard practice.
I offered them a ride simply as a courtesy.


(uncountable) Consent or agreement in spite of fact; indulgence.
They call this pond a lake by courtesy only.


(uncountable) Willingness or generosity in providing something needed.
They received free advertising through the courtesy of the local newspaper.
[on a label, caption, etc.] Courtesy the Smith Foundation: [e.g.] use of this image was allowed through the courtesy of the Smith Foundation.


A curtsey.


(law) The life interest that the surviving husband has in the real or heritable estate of his wife.


Alternative form of curtsey


Given or done as a polite gesture.
We paid a courtesy visit to the new neighbors.


Supplied free of charge.
The event planners offered courtesy tickets for the reporters.


Politeness; civility; urbanity; courtliness.
And trust thy honest-offered courtesy,With oft is sooner found in lowly sheds,With smoky rafters, than in tapestry wallsAnd courts of princes, where it first was named,And yet is most pretended.
Pardon me, Messer Claudio, if once moreI use the ancient courtesies of speech.


An act of civility or respect; an act of kindness or favor performed with politeness.
My lord, for your many courtesies I thank you.


Favor or indulgence, as distinguished from right; as, a title given one by courtesy.


An act of civility, respect, or reverence, made by women, consisting of a slight depression or dropping of the body, with bending of the knees.
The lady drops a courtesy in token of obedience, and the ceremony proceeds as usual.


To make a respectful salutation or movement of respect; esp. (with reference to women), to bow the body slightly, with bending of the knes.


To treat with civility.


A courteous or respectful or considerate act


A courteous or respectful or considerate remark


A courteous manner


Respectful behavior towards others.
Holding the door open for someone is a simple act of courtesy.


Polite speech and actions.
Greeting someone with a smile is a basic courtesy.


Can courtesy be learned?

Yes, courtesy can be learned and practiced, evolving with societal norms and cultural expectations.

Under what conditions does curtesy apply?

Curtesy applies when a married woman dies, leaving property and the couple has had children born alive during the marriage.

Why is courtesy important?

Courtesy is crucial for maintaining polite society, ensuring smooth social interactions, and building positive relationships.

How does curtesy benefit a surviving husband?

Curtesy provides financial security and rights to a surviving husband by granting him a life interest in his deceased wife's property.

What is curtesy in legal terms?

Curtesy is a legal provision that grants a surviving husband a life interest in his deceased wife's estate under certain conditions.

Is curtesy applicable in all legal systems?

Curtesy is specific to certain legal systems, particularly those with roots in English common law, and its applicability varies by jurisdiction.

What happens to curtesy if there are no children in the marriage?

Without children born alive from the marriage, the conditions for curtesy typically are not met, and the surviving husband may not have a claim under this right.

How does courtesy affect social interactions?

Courtesy positively impacts social interactions by fostering respect, goodwill, and harmonious relationships.

Does curtesy still exist today?

Curtesy exists in some jurisdictions, though its relevance and application have diminished with modern estate and property laws.

What is courtesy?

Courtesy is polite behavior and respect shown towards others, reflecting good manners and social etiquette.

What role does courtesy play in professional settings?

Courtesy is essential in professional settings, promoting a respectful and collaborative work environment, facilitating communication, and enhancing team dynamics.

Why is courtesy important in customer service?

Courtesy in customer service is crucial for creating positive customer experiences, building brand loyalty, and handling inquiries and complaints effectively.

Can a husband claim curtesy in property acquired after marriage?

Curtesy typically applies to all real property owned by the deceased wife at the time of her death, regardless of when it was acquired, subject to local laws.

Can courtesy change over time?

Yes, what is considered courteous behavior can change over time, reflecting shifts in social norms and cultural values.

Is courtesy valued the same in all cultures?

While all cultures value courtesy, the specific behaviors considered courteous can vary significantly from one culture to another.

How does one lose curtesy rights?

Curtesy rights can be lost if the marriage is legally annulled, through divorce, or if the surviving husband remarries, depending on the jurisdiction's laws.

How does technology affect the practice of courtesy?

Technology affects courtesy by creating new norms for communication and interaction, such as email etiquette and social media manners, while also challenging traditional notions of privacy and attention.

What legal reforms have impacted curtesy rights?

Legal reforms in property and inheritance laws, including the adoption of community property laws and equitable distribution in divorces, have diminished or eliminated curtesy in many jurisdictions.

Can curtesy rights be overridden by a will?

In jurisdictions where curtesy exists, its applicability can be affected by the terms of a will or prenuptial agreements, depending on local laws.

How is courtesy taught to children?

Children are taught courtesy through example, guidance, and direct instruction by parents, teachers, and other influential adults, emphasizing the value of respect and politeness.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Co-written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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