Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun agen·cy \ˈā-jən(t)-sē\

Simple Definition of agency

  • : a business that provides a particular service

  • : a government department that is responsible for a particular activity, area, etc.

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of agency



  1. 1 a :  the office or function of an agent b :  the relationship between a principal and that person's agent

  2. 2 :  the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power :  operation

  3. 3 :  a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved :  instrumentality <communicated through the agency of the ambassador>

  4. 4 :  an establishment engaged in doing business for another <an advertising agency>

  5. 5 :  an administrative division (as of a government) <the agency for consumer protection>

Examples of agency in a sentence

  1. the federal agency in charge of printing money

  2. <the federal agency charged with enforcing laws and regulations regarding the use of firearms>


First Known Use of agency


AGENCY Defined for Kids


noun agen·cy \ˈā-jən-sē\

Definition of agency for Students



  1. 1 :  a person or thing through which power is used or something is achieved <Through the agency of his former school, he reunited with some old friends.>

  2. 2 :  a business that provides a particular service <an advertising agency>

  3. 3 :  a part of a government that is responsible for providing a particular service or performing a specific function <law enforcement agencies>

Law Dictionary


noun agen·cy

Legal Definition of agency



  1. 1 :  the person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved <death by criminal agency — W. R. LaFave and A. W. Scott, Jr.>

  2. 2a :  a consensual fiduciary relationship in which one party acts on behalf of and under the control of another in dealing with third parties; also :  the power of one in such a relationship to act on behalf of another Editor's note: A principal is bound by and liable for acts of his or her agent that are within the scope of the agency. actual agency :  the agency that exists when an agent is in fact employed by a principal — see also express agency and implied agency in this entry agency by estoppel :  an agency that is not created as an actual agency by a principal and an agent but that is imposed by law when a principal acts in such a way as to lead a third party to reasonably believe that another is the principal's agent and the third party is injured by relying on and acting in accordance with that belief Editor's note: A principal has a duty to correct a third party's mistaken belief in an agent's authority to act on the principal's behalf. If the principal could have corrected the misunderstanding but failed to do so, he or she is estopped from denying the existence of the agency and is bound by the agent's acts in dealing with the third party. agency coupled with an interest :  an agency in which the agent has an interest in the property regarding which he or she is acting on the principal's behalf apparent agency :  agency by estoppel in this entry exclusive agency :  an agency common in real estate sales in which the property owner agrees to employ no agents to sell the property other than the one hired for a specified period express agency :  an actual agency created by the written or spoken words of the principal authorizing the agent to act — compare implied agency in this entry general agency :  an agency in which the agent is authorized to perform on behalf of the principal in all matters in furtherance of a particular business of the principal — compare special agency in this entry implied agency :  an actual agency created by acts of a principal that reasonably imply an intention to create an agency relationship — compare express agency in this entry ostensible agency :  agency by estoppel in this entry special agency :  an agency in which the agent is authorized to perform only specified acts or to act only in a specified transaction — compare general agency in this entry universal agency :  general agency in this entry b :  the office and function of an agent <even when granted discretion in carrying out his agency — R. C. Clark> c :  the law concerned with the relationship of a principal and an agent

  3. 3 :  an establishment engaged in doing the business of another: as a :  an establishment authorized by an insurance company to sell insurance policies and provide services offered by the insurer b :  an establishment authorized by property owners to find a buyer for their property Editor's note: Many businesses that use the term agency are not truly agencies as defined in sense 2.

  4. 4 :  a department or other unit of government created by legislation to administer the law in a particular area of public concern —called also administrative agency — see also enabling statute, exhaustion of remedies, Administrative Procedure Act Editor's note: When a legislature determines that government involvement is needed in a particular social activity or problem, it may write legislation creating an agency either directly or by authorizing the executive to set it up. Agencies exist at the federal, state, and local levels. Most federal agencies are attached to the executive branch of government. Some agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency) are called an agency. An agency may, however, be called such other names as board (as the National Labor Relations Board), commission (as the Securities and Exchange Commission), administration (as the Social Security Administration), and service (as the Internal Revenue Service). Agencies at the federal level are governed by the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, which is found at title 5 of the U.S. Code. independent agency :  an agency that is not part of any of the three branches of government regulatory agency :  an agency that is authorized by the legislature to establish and enforce rules regulating its particular area of concern —often used interchangeably with agency or administrative agency

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up agency? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to proceed clumsily or ineffectually

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of caesura?

megillah interruption torrent rebellion
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.