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Decorum vs. Decency: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 7, 2023
Decorum pertains to appropriateness and politeness in behavior and conduct, whereas decency refers to general moral standards and respectfulness in actions and words.

Key Differences

Decorum brings to mind a set of prescribed behaviors and actions that are considered appropriate and polite in specific social or formal situations. In contrast, decency orbits around a general moral and ethical framework that guides what is considered respectful and acceptable behavior universally.
Decorum often implies adherence to established norms or etiquette in a given context, possibly displaying a structured and somewhat rigid set of expectations. Conversely, decency, while underscoring moral upright and respectfulness, tends to encompass a broader and perhaps more flexible set of virtues that might be applied ubiquitously.
One could argue that decorum is often externally imposed, requiring individuals to behave according to specific protocols, especially within formal and public scenarios. Decency, however, often feels intrinsic, arising from an internal moral compass that steers individuals toward acts of kindness, respect, and consideration.
Decorum might sometimes demand an individual to adhere to formalities that do not necessarily align with personal beliefs or feelings, placing priority on appearance or impression. In contrast, decency tends to dwell within the realm of sincerity, where actions and words originate from a genuine place of respect and consideration for others.
In a situation involving debates or discussions, decorum would govern the manner in which points are articulated, ensuring respect and politeness in expression. On the other side, decency would influence the substance and intention behind the words spoken, ensuring they are respectful and considerate, transcending the mere formality of expression.

Comparison Chart


Often context-specific
Generally universal


External norms and etiquette
Inherent moral and ethical principles


Tends to be rigid and formal
More flexible and applicable


Can be superficial or genuine
Typically genuine


Primarily in social or formal scenarios
Across various scenarios, formal or informal

Decorum and Decency Definitions


Respectful Manner
His decorum while speaking was appreciated.


Kind Behavior
She showed great decency in her charitable actions.


Social Etiquette
Decorum was maintained throughout the meeting.


Considerate Manner
His decency was reflected in his thoughtful gestures.


Formal Behavior
Her decorum during the ceremony was impeccable.


Ethical Standards
Her decency was evident in honest dealings.


Conventional Protocols
The decorum of the court was strictly adhered to.


Moral Uprightness
His decency prevented him from lying.


Polite Conduct
The event proceeded with utmost decorum.


The state or quality of being decent; propriety.


Appropriateness of behavior or conduct; propriety
"In the Ireland of the 1940's ... the stolidity of a long, empty, grave face was thought to be the height of decorum and profundity" (John McGahern).


Conformity to prevailing standards of propriety or modesty.


Decorums The conventions or requirements of polite behavior
The formalities and decorums of a military funeral.


Social or moral proprieties.


The appropriateness of an element of an artistic or literary work, such as style or tone, to its particular circumstance or to the composition as a whole.


Surroundings or services deemed necessary for an acceptable standard of living.


(uncountable) Appropriate social behavior.


The quality of being decent; propriety.


(countable) A convention of social behavior.


That which is proper or becoming.


Propriety of manner or conduct; grace arising from suitableness of speech and behavior to one's own character, or to the place and occasion; decency of conduct; seemliness; that which is seemly or suitable.
Negligent of the duties and decorums of his station.
If your masterWould have a queen his beggar, you must tell him,That majesty, to keep decorum, mustNo less beg than a kingdom.


The quality or state of being decent, suitable, or becoming, in words or behavior; propriety of form in social intercourse, in actions, or in discourse; proper formality; becoming ceremony; seemliness; hence, freedom from obscenity or indecorum; modesty.
Observances of time, place, and of decency in general.
Immodest words admit of no defense,For want of decency is want of sense.


Propriety in manners and conduct


That which is proper or becoming.
The external decencies of worship.
Those thousand decencies, that daily flowFrom all her words and actions.


The quality of conforming to standards of propriety and morality


The quality of being polite and respectable


Respectful Actions
Demonstrating decency, he listened attentively.


Can decorum be superficial?

Yes, decorum can sometimes prioritize appearance over sincerity.

Is decency related to morality?

Yes, decency is fundamentally connected to moral and ethical behavior.

Is decency always sincere?

Typically, decency arises from genuine respect and consideration.

Does decorum focus on outward behavior?

Yes, decorum primarily pertains to external conduct and manners.

Does decorum regulate formal discussions?

Yes, decorum guides respectful and polite expression in discussions.

Is decency universally applicable?

Yes, decency typically guides behavior across various scenarios.

Does decency align with honesty?

Often yes, decency involves acting with honesty and integrity.

Can decency involve showing kindness?

Yes, decency often involves acting with kindness and consideration.

Can decorum be context-specific?

Yes, decorum often pertains to behaviors apt for specific situations.

Is decorum vital in diplomatic scenarios?

Absolutely, decorum is crucial in maintaining respect in diplomacy.

Can violating decorum be frowned upon?

Yes, breaking decorum can be perceived as disrespectful.

Can decorum affect reputation?

Certainly, maintaining decorum can positively influence reputation.

Is decency demonstrated through actions?

Yes, decency is often reflected in respectful and moral actions.

Does decency guide ethical decisions?

Yes, decency involves adhering to moral and ethical standards.

Is decency inherent or learned?

Decency can be inherent but also cultivated and strengthened through learning.

Can decency be taught?

Yes, values of decency can be taught and instilled from a young age.

Can decorum be culturally influenced?

Yes, cultural norms often shape what is considered proper decorum.

Does decorum involve adherence to rules?

Yes, decorum involves respecting established norms and etiquette.

Is decorum important in professional settings?

Definitely, decorum maintains a respectful and orderly environment.

Is decency valued in friendships?

Absolutely, decency fosters respect and consideration in friendships.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited 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.

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