authority figure

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a person whose real or apparent authority over others inspires or demands obedience and emulation: Parents, teachers, and police officers are traditional authority figures for children.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is an authority figure?

An authority figure is a person whose power or right over another encourages obedience or emulation, as in The school principal was an engaging authority figure that most of the students looked up to.

An authority figure can anyone who commands or inspires obedience from someone else, whether or not the authority figure has any actual power over that person. Parents and teachers are some of a child’s first authority figures, usually with actual power over a child. Your boss is also an authority figure who usually has actual power over you, as are police and military personnel.

Authority figures might also only seem to have authority over others, because they inspire obedience or emulation. An authority figure might do this through fear, as with someone who is physically strong or aggressive, or through respectability or social influence.

Example: Alvin was a good authority figure for his grandchildren, offering wise advice and teaching them how to treat others.

Where does authority figure come from?

The first records of the term authority figure come from around the 1940s. It combines the English terms authority, meaning “power or right,” and figure, meaning “a representation, character, or personage.”

Authority figures like parents and other guardians, teachers, mentors, local community leaders, and people in positions of influence are considered extremely important to the development of children. Children tend to copy what they see and need to learn what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. A good authority figure teaches respect for others and shows consideration for those they have authority over while enforcing any power they have over others.

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How is authority figure used in real life?

Authority figure is often used in discussions of people’s behavior and whether it is what is expected of them.


Try using authority figure!

Is authority figure used correctly in the following sentence?

Dan wasn’t a very good authority figure because he didn’t follow the rules he and his employees were supposed to follow.

How to use authority figure in a sentence