Allegedly

By Maeve Maddox

A reader who edits financial news has observed that some writers seem to be unaware of the specific connotation of allegedly and gives this example:

[Company name], an integrated automotive company, is allegedly to reduce expansion plan for its car rent company, from initially 4,000 units to 3,000 units of additional fleet.

The word allegedly is not a suitable choice in the context of what seems to be a straightforward business report about an impending reduction in the fleet of a car rental agency. The writer of the piece has received the information from some source. The professional approach would be to name the source. If for some reason a known source must not be named, then the information can be “rumored.”

In modern English usage, the words allege, alleged and allegedly must be used with care because they imply suspected illicit activity.

In 1300, the verb allege meant, “to swear on oath” or “to submit as legal evidence.”

In the 21st century, the verb allege means, “to claim something unproven as true, especially with reference to illicit or illegal behavior.”

Allege, alleged, and the noun allegation are verbal hot potatoes. The Associated Press Stylebook devotes five and a half column inches to guidelines for its use. Writers are advised to avoid any suggestion that they are the ones doing the alleging. This means that the writer must identify the source of the allegation in the form of an authoritative person, agency, or official document. For example,

In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Amazon, a practice they disliked.

Once the source of the accusation has been identified, the writer must then use alleged or allegedly when referring to whatever has been alleged. For example:

She is being sued for the $78,000 in parish funds she allegedly misappropriated for her own personal and family use.

Several SNC-Lavalin employees said they were aware of the alleged scheme.

On the other hand, it’s possible to overdo the allegeds and allegedlys. In these examples, the word accused is sufficient:

Mendham Police Accused Of Allegedly Targeting Young Drivers
Evansville woman accused of allegedly embezzling thousands from local program.

Alleged is not a word to use in referring to an event that actually took place. The following example is from a news item about a speaker accused of making racist remarks at a meeting that was attended by many people:

The police [are] collecting statements from people who were present at the alleged meeting.

The speaker’s remarks were alleged, not the meeting. The meeting really took place.

Finally, there’s no need to use alleged when some other qualifier can do the job as well or better. Here are some options:

professed
purported
supposed
so-called
ostensible
putative
unproven/unproved

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11 Responses to “Allegedly”

  • Dale A Wood

    Hello, Maeve,
    This is a very good article that you wrote!
    I had seen many instances of uses of “alleged” that I thought “smelled bad”, but now I see that “stunk” was the word for it. Thank you for enlightening us.

    Furthermore, there are other problems with the use of the word in journalism: the use of the word as a falsehood. For example: “Osama bin Laden is alleged to have…” when Osama had announced it publicly, bragged about it, and confessed to it, and his associates had confirmed it.
    There was no reasonable doubt about it, and his foul deeds were the truth. There was no “alleged” about it.
    D.A.W.

  • Jim Hertsch

    Great equivocation word! Please send to all TV news-writers. Another error I see too often is its misplacement: “Joe Smith was charged with allegedly murdering Frank Jones.” Last I checked, murdering someone was a chargeable offense; allegedly murdering someone was not. The sentence above might work if the writer was unsure about the whether Joe had been charged: “Joe Smith was allegedly charged….”

  • ApK

    DAW the use of ‘alleged’ in the bin Laden example you give is correct.
    Many people, notably terrorists, sometimes falsely claim responsibility for things a they didn’t do. Until it’s proven, it’s alleged, even if someone claims to have done it, and the court of public opinion does not count as proof.

  • Dale A Wood

    NO – you are wrong. Bin Laden had repeatedly threatened the United States, and our intelligence services knew about him. President Clinton knew what a threat bin Laden was, back in 1998 – 99, and he had ordered the Navy to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at him back then.
    Then, inexplicably, G.W.B. did nothing to track down bin Laden and kill or capture him. Bin Laden was a snake-in-the-grass, but G.W.B. did not stomp on him.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    And you allege some action, not a person. A sentence like, “The alleged burglar was arrested by the police” is very common, in my experience. The accused burglar would be correct, as would a reference to the alleged burglary.

  • Dale A Wood

    I agree with Venqax in the above completely: alleged actions and not alleged people. However, what about alleged phenomena? Alleged flying saucers, alleged ghosts, alleged apparations (angels, spirits, demons, etc.), alleged voices in records played backwards (e.g. “Pot is groovy.”)? Alleged ESP and pseudoscientific events abound, and they plague mankind.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A Wood

    Alleged on TV in Alabama today!
    “An alleged suspect…”
    Well, being a suspect is an allegation itself, so the man is an “alleged, alleged criminal”, misusing the word in multiple ways.
    Things like this reminds me of STAR TREK IV, in which Capt. Kirk said, “Double dumbass on you!”
    D.A.W.

  • apk

    Venaqax, if it’s true that “alleged” should be applied to an action (is it? Why?) then I’d think “suspected burgler” would be the better phrase.
    Saying “accused burgler” sound too much like “accused man.” That is it sounds like the your stating he’s a burgler as fact, and you are accusing him of this particular act.

    DAW, your typical inappropriate nonsense aside, in that specific example, I’d think something like “bin Laden has claimed responsibility for…” might have been a better and more accurate choice. If at all possible, try to stick to the topic and save your op-ed for your own blog, thanks.

  • venqax

    @apk: Yes, grammatically you could use suspected but if you were doing so in a legal context it would have a different implication. Someone is a suspected criminal while under investigation, but gets his status upgraded to being an accused one (also a defendant) after being formally charged. The defendant in a criminal proceeding is “the accused”. There may have been a long list of mere suspects before any arrests were made. As to Why it only applies to actions, not people, I think it is just a matter of definition and a rule of usage. Don’t know its origin.

    @DAW: I think alleged would not still not be the appropriate choice in those examples. Alleged still has the connotation of attaching to something illicit, I think.

  • Dale A Wood

    APK: I do not think that you understand much about statistics and reasoning about them, and hence you do not understand much about proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Bin Laden did the evils that he did beyond a reasonable doubt, and it’s a wonder that you want to be an apologist for him and his followers.
    I’ll tell you that you are being unscientific anywhere that I choose to.
    The human race has a serious problem with unscientific and pseudoscientific thinking.
    D.A.W.

  • Maeve

    Dale,
    You really need to read the post “Comment Etiquette” and take it to heart. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/comment-etiquette/

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