- legal, lawful, legitimate, licit1. All four words share the basic meaning ‘conforming to the law’. Something is legal when it is authorized by the law of the land, legitimate when it conforms to custom or common justice, and lawful (a more old-fashioned word) when it conforms to moral or divine law. Legal is the only choice in the neutral descriptive meaning ‘relating to the law’ (as in legal language), and legitimate alone has the meaning ‘born of married parents’. Licit, which means much the same as lawful, is the least used of all these words, although illicit is somewhat more common. See also illegal.2. For legitimate as a verb, see legitimate, legitimize.————————legitimate, legitimize1. As a verb, legitimate is pronounced with the last syllable as -ayt and means ‘to make legitimate or legal’. It competes in both BrE and AmE with legitimize, which is the only form used in the meaning ‘to make (a child) legitimate’:
• My companion had up his sleeve something that would legitimate his employing my Christian name —J. I. M. Stewart, 1974
• You…forget the very people who legitimize your authority —Chinua Achebe, 1987
• This exhibition helps legitimize the last quarter century's most incontrovertible cultural phenomenon —Sunday Herald, 2000
• Citizens of the New World sought to legitimate young democratic nations by recalling a grander, classical past —C. Freeland, 2003
• She raised the present action [in 1827] that the defender, having been born a bastard in England, where the…subsequent marriage of the parents does not legitimize offspring, therefore should be held to be a bastard still —Times, 2007.2. For legitimate as an adjective, see legal.
Modern English usage. 2014.