If Applicable - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you staring at an employment form for a new job, confused by the term "if applicable?"

Before you ask the HR manager what they want from you, take the time to read through this post. We'll unpack this idiomatic phrase's meaning, origin, and use for you.


If you're using "if applicable" in language or hear or see its use, it probably comes from official documents or forms. The forms could be for legal use or internal communications within a company or organization.

For example, if you come across "if applicable" in a form, it would refer to the fact that the information required may not apply to you or your situation. As a result, you may leave out the section instead of completing it, moving on to the rest of the document.

The phrase "if applicable" can appear in many different types of documents, and you can also hear it in language. Typically, people will use "if applicable" in a formal conversation when they are notifying you that you can leave out the information if it's relevant to what they want to know.

"If applicable" also refers to instruction more than a request, and you won't hear your friends or family use it very often. Using "if applicable" in a social conversation may sound strange to the other participants, making you appear inauthentic.

You can use “if applicable” in the workplace when talking to other people that are below you in authority or ranking. Typically, you'll be asking them for more information or the lack of it. For instance, it's a common phrase appearing in many Human Resources documentation when interviewing employees.

You might have to fill out a questionnaire for your position, and the form could ask you to enter information "if applicable" or "where applicable."

Example Usage

"You can use it if applicable."

"You'll have to go through airport security, and if applicable, customs control as well."

"Write down your qualifications on the form if applicable."

"You'll have to go for genetic testing, if applicable, to your situation."

"Mention your past rental history, if applicable."


There is no official origin of the phrase "If applicable." However, some language experts suggest it rose in the 1940s due to the use of corporate language. "If applicable" appears in contract law, and it originates from the word "applicable."

Applicable first appeared in the 1650s. the word has the meaning of "capable of being applied, appropriate, or suitable." The term has its root in Latin, apply, with the earlier use of the word being "appliable" applicable has the formal meaning, "pliable or well-disposed."

Many language experts believe that the phrase came from the legal world and the development of contract law to include modern language terms during the 20th century. However, no one knows for sure when the term first emerged, and there is no reference to it in any modern dictionary or phrasebook.

Phrases Similar to If Applicable

  • Where applicable.
  • If it applies.
  • If necessary.

Phrases Opposite to If Applicable

  • Not suitable.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • If applicable.
  • Where applicable.

Ways People May Say If Applicable Incorrectly

"If applicable" doesn't suit use in social and informal conversation. If you use the phrase around your friends, they might think you come off as pompous.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase If Applicable

"If applicable" suits use in legal or formal language and conversation. Typically, you'll use the phrase more in writing than in conversation, appearing on notices or warnings. You can also use the term if you're trying to explain something to someone in a formal context.

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