• Exhibiting sophisticated and meticulous etiquette or nobility, especially for the purposes of impressing others

  • Pertaining to a privileged or elite class or social status


Part of being polite is doing so for the right reasons. It’s usually obvious when others make grand gestures for the sole purpose of over-inflating their own reputations, and we tend (rightly) not to think very highly of them. The easiest way not to fall into the trap of behaving in such a showily genteel fashion is to give people the basic respect they deserve - etiquette will naturally follow.

Genteel describes something or someone as displaying a very lofty or exacting degree of politeness and noble bearing, often with an eye toward impressing others. In this way, genteel actions usually go beyond merely behaving in keeping with good manners, but involve making an obvious show of good manners, regardless of their sincerity, in the hopes of impressing other people. For instance, while holding the door open for someone would certainly be polite, and even admirable, doing so while boldly declaring, “No, after you, I insist!” would be genteel. It is worth noting that to be genteel in this way is not deceitful or subtly impolite, but simply chivalrous in a way that is also deliberately meant to reflect positively on the doer of the kindly deed.

Genteel can also characterize something or someone as literally related to some kind of aristocratic or elevated social station. Thus, a senate seat would be a genteel office, as (in theory) it affords the holder with the respect and admiration of the people. By extension, senators could be considered genteel politicians, as they belong to the elite social class of senate membership. People or things can be genteel in this way so long as they enjoy some distinction or position that is viewed highly in their society. In a social setting where politicians of any sort are not regarded highly, a senator would not be genteel at all! Given the class stratification prevalent around the world, wealthy or powerful factions or individuals, from business leaders to public servants, are customarily regarded as genteel. Historically, members of influential families, from the Medicis of Medieval Italy to the Kennedys of modern America, have likewise been considered genteel. Where genteel matters are concerned, one can expect an element of nobility!

Example: The host’s genteel bearing gave the occasion an elegant touch.

Example: Polo is often considered a genteel pastime.

Example: The gentleman made the genteel gesture of kneeling to kiss the hand of the duchess, to the delight of the assembled nobles.


The word genteel and the English word gentle derive from the Middle French gentil, meaning “chic,” “elegant” or “nice,” but the former word arrived as a derivation from gentil after the emergence of the latter. Before its Middle French incarnation, gentil traces back to the Old French gentil before it, meaning “aristocratic.” Prior to this, the word originated from the Latin word gentilis, which means “belonging to the same house or clan” and comes from the Latin root gens, meaning “clan” or “bloodline.”

Derivative Words

Genteelly: The adverb form of genteel notes when some deed is carried out in a well-mannered, aristocratic, or affected fashion.

Example: She waited until her last guest had taken his seat before genteelly waving her hand in front of her plate to invite everyone to eat.

Example: He attired himself genteelly, wearing exclusively designer clothing and accessories.

Gentility: Gentility is a noun derived from genteel which can mean either the quality of showy etiquette or the class of nobility in the uppermost echelons of society.

Example: The other patrons were flabbergasted by his lack of gentility in talking to his friend all through the opera performance.

Example: In civilizations all around the world, and across vast stretches of time, warriors and religious figures are consistently considered part of the gentility of their respective societies.

Genteelness: The noun form signifies the quality or state of high etiquette, nobility, or pompousness that a person or thing might have.

Example: His boss’s genteelness showed her respect for her employees of every level.

Example: Some individuals from old aristocratic clans wear a family crest to show their enduring genteelness.

Genteelism: A genteelism, a noun usually used in the singular, is a word or expression that thinly veils a crass idiom or euphemism in outwardly acceptable language. Euphemism is a close synonym of genteelism.

Example: The genteelism he substituted in place of the joke’s usual punchline did not prevent the offended guests in earshot from glaring at him.

Similar Words

Gentry: The word gentry is a noun which refers primarily to a wealthy, aristocratic class which wields considerable influence over how the society is ordered, and also to the quality of rank, nobility, or good-mannered character. Gentry bears a close relationship to genteel by nature of their shared root, the Latin gens for “bloodline” or “familial house.”

Example: As the domain of Imperial China was so vast, the gentry administered most of the government services to the peasants on its behalf.

Example: Though born in poverty, the Silicon Valley billionaire displayed the utmost gentry when dealing with investors and employees.

In Literature

From Terry Pratchett's Discworld:

The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one that looks as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more stairways than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

In this passage, Pratchett whimsically praises the allure of a good used bookstore, noting that its draw is akin to that of a black hole, but more polite, or genteel. Indeed, the destructive gravitational forces of black holes are certainly not very polite.


  • Act genteel if you want to appear well-heeled.

  • If you act genteel, you will probably feel pretty classy.

  • If you’re genteel, you’re probably considered a gentleman or gentlewoman.


Behavior, Character, Class, Society, Status

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of genteel. Did you use genteel in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.