Now kindly help me understand the word at the title.

A textbook gives me two sentences.

Because there are many norms in existing in society, occasional violations are unavoidable.

Sanctions are punishments used to enforce conformity to norms.

According to Merriam Unabirdged, there are 5 definitions.

1 : an authoritative rule or standard : model, type, pattern; specifically : a hypothetical mineral composition of a rock calculated according to certain definite rules and usually differing widely from the actual mineral composition or mode

2 : a standard of conduct or ethical value : a principle of right action : maxim; especially : an imperative statement asserting or denying that something ought to be done or has value

3 : an ideal standard binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior

4 : average : such as a : a set standard of development or achievement usually derived from the average or median achievement of a large group specifically : a production quota set for a worker

b : the average score of a specified class of persons on a specified test

c : a pattern or trait taken or estimated to be typical in the behavior of a social group because most frequently observed

d : something (as a widespread or usual practice, procedure, or custom) that is normal or expected

5 a : a real-valued nonnegative function defined on a vector space and satisfying the conditions that the function is zero if and only if the vector is zero, the function of the product of a scalar and a vector is equal to the product of the absolute value of the scalar and the function of the vector, and that the function of the sum of two vectors is less than or equal to the sum of the functions of the two vectors; specifically : the square root of the sum of the squares of the absolute values of the elements of a matrix or of the components of a vector

b : the greatest distance between two successive points of a set of points that partition an interval into smaller intervals

Now, whereas it seems the word norm(s) of the textbook is used negatively to me, the dictionary seems to me to give just "normal" uses, which is standard or average, and so on.

Which definition would the word norm in the textbook fall under?

I decided to pick Andrews's answer as the best. The reason is, I encountered another text.


In all societies, heterosexuality is the norm. No society encourages homosexuality.

Keeping off if the homosexuality is thought be one of the "norms" in today's society, the speaker's intention, published by a Japanese TOEFL preparation school, which comprises of many English native speakers, became clearer to me.

Anything is relative. Any norm, however it is "welcomed" in a society, is relative.

Thank you Andrew. ( I did not select his as the best because of the number of the upvotes, kindly be reminded. )

  • There are denotations and connotations. norm denotes what people do or what people are expected to do, which are not always the same thing. norm can connote what is desirable or, to the rebellious, what may be undesirable. Connotations are governed by context.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 21:17
  • I don't understand why there are 2 close votes. If choosing the best answer is "opinion" based, then I have nothing to say.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 1:35
  • Not my close vote, but the fact that the context of those sentences is violations and punishments does not make the use of the term norm itself negative. As I indicated in my comment, norms can describe or prescribe. When they prescribe, and people do not obey, things can get ugly, but that does not make the act of prescribing itself a negative thing. Highway speed limits are there for a good reason, for example. The entire premise of your question is on shaky ground.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:26
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I am not asking how norms work. I am asking the "difference" between the word norms used in the text and the most of the definitions by Merriam. Now, if norm were neutral, how could the text use the word as plural though according to Merriam, it would be a kind of standard?? And which should be only one in a society "principally" speaking?
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:40
  • I think you're barking up the wrong tree with this singular/plural distinction. It's specious. There are many norms in society. Some govern speed limits on the highway. Others govern what parts of your body you must keep covered when out in public. Others govern the sorts of things you might say to a stranger on the subway. Some norms are codified. Others are simply a part of the prevailing culture.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 9:46

3 Answers 3


"Norm" is neutral by default. Any negative or positive connotation is implied by context.

When you visit another country, you should always try to follow societal norms so as not to cause offense.

How can I follow those so-called "norms" when I don't want to be anything like the other kids at school?

In my first example sentence, "norms" is neutral or slightly positive to mean "what is common and courteous". In my second example sentence "norms" means more like the negative "what everyone else does because they aren't original or interesting".

Of course, a "norm" is a matter of perspective. What seems normal to one person might seem outrageous or even offensive to another. Again, context is everything.

  • I am sorry, the word norms in the first sentence does not seem to be positive since a word like "violation" is used. Thank you anyway.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 22:24
  • 2
    @KentaroTomono You misunderstand. I mean in my first sentence, not the first sentence in your example. In your first example sentence, the word "norms" is again neutral. The violation of the norm is what is negative. You are of course welcome to pick whatever answer you want, but please make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 23:01
  • 3
    @KentaroTomono It's not clear what you're trying to say or ask. What do you mean by positive? Positive how? The answerers here have parsed your question a certain way, but it seems that's not what you're asking about. Just because you can use dead with mother, doesn't mean the word mother is negative.
    – user3395
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 23:02
  • @Andrew Upvoted for parsing Kentaro's response correctly; the 'violation' isn't the reason it's a negative term. On the other hand the implicit acceptance of mass violation does speak to a belief that the norms hold no particular sanctity and the speaker is above them themself. In other words, that it's being deployed in a rather pejorative way that would not be used for things the speaker truly believed to be affronts to human dignity (namely, the norms they themself believe in).
    – lly
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 2:52
  • @lly I think you're reading too much into what is a fairly simple statement. If anything the "norm" is the good thing and the "violation" is bad, but really we don't know if the writer thinks this overall situation is good or bad without more context. For example, the next sentence might be, "Nevertheless it's evident that, for the good of social harmony, violators should be harshly punished." Or the next sentence could be, "This irreverence is nothing but encouraging, since a society that doesn't flaunt convention only grows more and more stagnant."
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 5:23

This is a matter of perspective. A norm can be considered smart, prudent, and desirable, or it may be considered an unnecessary and undesirable obstruction. It all depends on your point of view.

Everything is relative. For example, you might consider the boiling point of water to be a very hot temperature, but if you are trying to forge steel it would be way too cold.


Which definition would the word norm in the textbook fall under?

4c & d

'The normally expected behavior in society' is pretty much the usual definition at this point. It's used to distinguish such expectations from formally enacted laws and regulations on the one hand and personal preferences on the other.

Right now, the norm is for 'norm' to carry negative connotations because (a) American discussions of societal expectations default to supporting individual choice, (b) including freedom from societal censure for those choices, and (c) that goes double for any norms involving race, gender, or sexuality. It's also somewhat negative to conform or adhere to a norm instead of being exceptional or groundbreaking.

That said, there are clinical and scientific uses of norm that are perfectly neutral. Your textbook examples are actually precisely such clinical cases, but you picked up on the pejorative undercurrent which views many (notionally neutral) norms as oppressive or discriminatory, particularly to minorities.

'Norm' can also take on positive connotations when discussing moral or professional behavior that someone is thought to be transgressing, the main current example being obvious.

  • I decided to pick yours as the best considering the U.S diverse culture, your reference (a) looks fits very nicely with the implication of the text. Especially the category 4c) c : a pattern or trait taken or estimated to be typical in the behavior of a social group because most frequently observed could convey the negative meaning when the so-called "standard" requirements are applied "relatively" to their particular behavior of a group. Thank you.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 22:12
  • @KentaroTomono Thank you, but again it's not necessarily about the formal definition or its relative application; the pejorative aspect mostly comes in when people view the norms as illegitimate tools of social control and oppression. In other contexts, it can be neutral or positive.
    – lly
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 2:55
  • "Norn" isn't behavior, it's a standard/model/pattern regarded as typical.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 17:47
  • @Rompey fwiw, "Norns" are Norse goddesses of fate. Norms are rather fully defined in the question and societal norms (codified in behavior) are absolutely part of that definition. If you needed the OED instead, you can confirm for yourself that 'behavior' is the second sense listed (semanto-chronologically, not by importance).
    – lly
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 18:11
  • Actually, I am reconsidering...the loss of the opvotes and the current amount of upvotes indicates only I and another person support yours.
    – user17814
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 19:14

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