Appropriate vs. expropriate

Photo of author


To appropriate is (1) to take possession of for one’s own use, and (2) to set something apart for a specific use. To appropriate something is not necessarily to deprive another of possession; for example, an artist might appropriate another’s style, or one might appropriate a catchy archaic phrase from the 18th century. But appropriation does sometimes involve depriving of possession, such as when a government appropriates a private company. In its second sense, appropriate usually applies to government funds or other official resources given out for specified purposes. This use of the word is primarily American, but it’s not unheard of elsewhere.

To expropriate is to deprive of possession, especially using eminent domain or judicial action. So expropriate is often interchangeable with appropriate where the latter involves depriving of possession, and both words are indeed commonly used in reference to government appropriation of private property and companies.


The Columbia City Council yesterday approved a measure to appropriate funds that could be used to provide bonuses to city employees. [Columbia Daily Tribune]

Chàvez has suggested expropriating “bourgeois” golf courses to build housing projects on them instead. [Financial Times]

Rescinding the billions appropriated to Obamacare would help reach the GOP’s well-publicized pledge to cut spending by $100 billion. [Heritage Foundation]

The bill effectively gives the government the right to expropriate land at a price. [Reuters]

Known for his unique style of appropriating popular-culture imagery and mass-produced objects to create his own artwork, Jeff Koons made headlines a few years ago. [Intellectual Property Brief]

Wall Street has wiped $5 billion off Apache’s market value since the riots began amid fears that a new government could expropriate their land concessions. [Fortune]