Illegitimate vs. Illegal: What's the Difference?
Illegitimate refers to something that is not authorized or recognized by law or societal norms, while Illegal explicitly means a violation of the law. Both terms imply lack of validity but operate in different realms.
Illegitimate generally means lacking legality, validity, or recognition. It is a term that could be applied to a wide range of subjects, from children born out of wedlock to an illegitimate claim. Illegal, however, specifically implies a breach of law. While both terms are often used in a legal context, Illegitimate can extend beyond legal boundaries into social or moral spheres.
From a grammatical standpoint, both Illegitimate and Illegal are adjectives. However, Illegal is often used in contexts directly involving law enforcement or the judiciary. For instance, "illegal drugs" refers to substances prohibited by law. In contrast, "illegitimate means" could refer to methods that are not only against the law but may also violate ethical or societal norms.
Illegitimate and Illegal can sometimes be used interchangeably, but they have nuanced differences. For example, a business action can be illegitimate if it violates ethical norms, even if no law specifically forbids it. On the other hand, an action is illegal only if it violates a specific law. Therefore, while all illegal activities are essentially illegitimate, not all illegitimate activities are necessarily illegal.
Another key difference lies in their usage in everyday language. The term Illegal is often far more straightforward, implicating a clear breach of established laws. Illegitimate, however, can be more subjective, often requiring context for clarification. For instance, calling a government "illegitimate" may require examination of legal, ethical, and social considerations, while declaring an action "illegal" typically only involves the legal aspect.
Broad, may include social norms
Legal, social, or moral
Can be more subjective
May be used interchangeably
Not always interchangeable
Illegitimate and Illegal Definitions
Lacking validity or recognition.
His illegitimate claim to the throne was ignored.
Against the rules.
His actions were deemed illegal by the committee.
Born out of wedlock.
He was an illegitimate child of the affair.
Illegal fishing depletes natural resources.
Not conforming to accepted standards.
The study was based on illegitimate methods.
Illegal hacking is a federal crime.
Not authorized by law.
The court deemed the contract illegitimate.
Forbidden by law.
Illegal drugs are a serious offense.
The coup led to an illegitimate government.
Prohibited by law.
Being against established or accepted rules and standards
An illegitimate means of winning a debate.
Prohibited by official rules
An illegal pass in football.
Being against the law; illegal
An illegitimate contract.
Unacceptable to or not performable by a computer
An illegal operation.
Not valid or defensible
Their reasons for missing school are illegitimate.
A person who is not legally authorized to live and work in a country.
Incorrectly deduced; illogical
An illegitimate conclusion.
Contrary to or forbidden by law, especially criminal law.
This is illegal, you know!
Nearly 40 million people live in UK areas with illegal air pollution
Their illegal mining operations in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, are protected by officials and police paid to look the other way – and powerful customers in the construction industry who prefer not to ask too many questions.
(Biology) Unacceptable as a scientific name because of not conforming to the international rules of nomenclature.
Breaching certain enacted statutes of positive law; not lawful, not legal (cf. immoral, unethical)
(Offensive) Born to parents not married to each other.
Forbidden by established rules.
Moving a pawn backward is an illegal move in chess.
Not conforming to known principles, or established or accepted rules or standards.
Totally fictitious, and often issued on behalf of a non-existent territory or country.
Not in accordance with the law.
Being or doing something illegally.
Not sanctioned by marriage.
Being an illegal immigrant; residing in a country illegally.
Born to unmarried parents.
An illegitimate child
(obsolete) An illegal act or technique.
(dated) Having a child or children with a person to whom one is not married.
Contraband, esp. illegal substances such as drugs.
Not correctly deduced.
An illegitimate inference
An illegal immigrant.
Not authorized by good usage; not genuine.
An illegitimate word
(espionage) A spy working abroad illegally and undercover, without visible ties to his or her country’s authorities.
(botany) Involving the fertilization of pistils by stamens not of their own length, in heterogonously dimorphic and trimorphic flowers.
Illegitimate union; illegitimate fertilization
Not according to, or authorized by, law; specif., contrary to, or in violation of, human law; unlawful; illicit; hence, immoral; as, an illegal act; illegal trade; illegal love.
A person born to unmarried parents.
Prohibited by law or by official or accepted rules;
An illegal chess move
(transitive) To make illegitimate.
Illegal parking is subject to fines.
Not according to law; not regular or authorized; unlawful; improper.
Unlawfully begotten; born out of wedlock; bastard; as, an illegitimate child.
Not legitimately deduced or inferred; illogical; as, an illegitimate inference.
Not authorized by good usage; not genuine; spurious; as, an illegitimate word.
To render illegitimate; to declare or prove to be born out of wedlock; to bastardize; to illegitimatize.
The marriage should only be dissolved for the future, without illegitimating the issue.
The illegitimate offspring of unmarried parents
Contrary to or forbidden by law;
An illegitimate seizure of power
An outlaw strike
Of marriages and offspring; not recognized as lawful
Is Illegitimate only a legal term?
No, Illegitimate can extend to social and moral contexts.
How do Illegitimate and Illegal differ?
Illegitimate is broader, while Illegal is specific to legal violations.
What is Illegitimate?
Illegitimate means lacking legality, validity, or recognition.
What is Illegal?
Illegal specifically means a violation of law.
Is Illegal only a legal term?
Yes, Illegal specifically refers to legal matters.
Are both terms adjectives?
Yes, both Illegitimate and Illegal are adjectives.
Can Illegitimate and Illegal be used interchangeably?
Sometimes, but they have nuanced differences.
Is every Illegal action Illegitimate?
Generally, yes, Illegal actions are also Illegitimate.
Can a person be Illegitimate?
In historical contexts, a child born out of wedlock may be called Illegitimate.
Is Illegal an objective term?
It is generally more objective, as it refers to law.
Is Illegitimate a subjective term?
It can be subjective, depending on the context.
What's a synonym for Illegal?
"Criminal" is a synonym for Illegal.
Can a person be Illegal?
The term "illegal" should not be used to describe a person; instead, use "undocumented."
Is every Illegitimate action Illegal?
No, some actions can be Illegitimate but not Illegal.
What's a synonym for Illegitimate?
"Unlawful" could be considered a synonym.
Written bySawaira Riaz
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