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Hereditary titles often distinguish nobles from non-nobles, although in many nations most of the nobility have been un-titled, and a hereditary title need not ipso facto indicate nobility (e.g., vidame).
Some countries have had non-hereditary nobility, such as the Empire of Brazil or life peers in the United Kingdom.
Nobility came to be associated with social rather than legal privilege, expressed in a general expectation of deference from those of lower rank.
By the 21st century even that deference had become increasingly minimised.
Not all of the benefits of nobility derived from noble status per se.
Usually privileges were granted or recognised by the monarch in association with possession of a specific title, office or estate.
In modern usage, "nobility" is applied to the highest social class in pre-modern societies, excepting the ruling dynasty.