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


noun dis·ci·pline \ˈdi-sə-plən\

Simple Definition of discipline

  • : control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior

  • : a way of behaving that shows a willingness to obey rules or orders

  • : behavior that is judged by how well it follows a set of rules or orders

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of discipline

  1. 1 :  punishment

  2. 2 obsolete :  instruction

  3. 3 :  a field of study

  4. 4 :  training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

  5. 5 a :  control gained by enforcing obedience or order b :  orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c :  self-control

  6. 6 :  a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

disciplinal play \-plə-nəl\ adjective

Examples of discipline in a sentence

  1. Sir Robert Peel is credited with creating the first modern police force, the bobbies, in London, in 1829, but the transformation of law enforcement, and especially forensic science, into a professional discipline was a haphazard affair. —Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, 7 May 2007

  2. Pragmatism became America's most important contribution to the life of the mind in the 20th century. Filtered through scores of later interpreters, it percolated across a broad segment of academic culture and influenced disciplines as diverse as literary criticism and legal theory. —Theo Anderson, Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2007

  3. So the next fall I went to Hampshire College and began studying under Herbert Bernstein. Without him, I would never have become a scientist. He shamed me into doing the hard work necessary to be able not just to talk about math and physics but to calculate. Without that discipline, my story would have been very different … —Lee Smolin, Curious Minds, (2004) 2005

  4. He stood erect, his bearing patrician, his dress impeccable. His face was stern and his pale eyes unsmiling behind his trifocals, like a man who had been called from important duties in the principal's office to administer discipline to an unruly classroom. —Nick Taylor, Laser, 2000

  5. The teacher has a hard time maintaining discipline in the classroom.

  6. The troops were praised for their dedication and discipline.

  7. Some parents feel that the school's principal has been too harsh in meting out discipline.

  8. Keeping a journal is a good discipline for a writer.

Origin of discipline

Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin disciplina teaching, learning, from discipulus pupil

First Known Use: 13th century



verb dis·ci·pline \ˈdi-sə-plən\

Simple Definition of discipline

  • : to punish (someone) as a way of making sure that rules or orders are obeyed

  • : to train (yourself) to do something by controlling your behavior

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of discipline


  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience and perfecting moral character

  3. 2 :  to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control

  4. 3 a :  to bring (a group) under control <discipline troops> b :  to impose order upon <serious writers discipline and refine their writing styles>

discipliner noun

Examples of discipline in a sentence

  1. The Army disciplined seven men for the incident, penalties ranging from pay-cuts and loss of rank to dismissal from the Rangers and return to the rank-and-file Army. —Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, 11 Sept. 2006

  2. Volunteers have to undergo a program to discipline the mind and cleanse the soul. —Aparism Ghosh, Time, 4 July 2005

  3. The teacher then took me to the principal's office. There, the principal attempted to discipline me with an old Catholic school technique called “paddling” … —Lalo Gomez, Undoing Time, 2001

  4. She was disciplined for misbehaving in class.

  5. He seems unwilling or unable to discipline his children.

  6. I'm trying to discipline myself to eat less.

Origin of discipline

(see 1discipline)

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of discipline

punish, chastise, castigate, chasten, discipline, correct mean to inflict a penalty on in requital for wrongdoing. punish implies subjecting to a penalty for wrongdoing <punished for stealing>. chastise may apply to either the infliction of corporal punishment or to verbal censure or denunciation <chastised his son for neglecting his studies>. castigate usually implies a severe, typically public censure <an editorial castigating the entire city council>. chasten suggests any affliction or trial that leaves one humbled or subdued <chastened by a landslide election defeat>. discipline implies a punishing or chastening in order to bring under control <parents must discipline their children>. correct implies punishing aimed at reforming an offender <the function of prison is to correct the wrongdoer>.

teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline, school mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill. teach applies to any manner of imparting information or skill so that others may learn <taught us a lot about our planet>. instruct suggests methodical or formal teaching <instructs raw recruits in military drill>. educate implies development of the mind <more things than formal schooling serve to educate a person>. train stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view <trained foreign pilots to operate the new aircraft>. discipline implies training in habits of order and precision <a disciplined mind>. school implies training or disciplining especially in what is hard to master <schooled the horse in five gaits>.

DISCIPLINE Defined for Kids



noun dis·ci·pline \ˈdi-sə-plən\

Definition of discipline for Students

  1. 1 :  punishment 1

  2. 2 :  strict training that corrects or strengthens <“Boys need discipline,” he said.>

  3. 3 :  habits and ways of acting that are gotten through practice <At this point in the act the penguins always forgot their discipline … — Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr. Popper's Penguins>

  4. 4 :  control that is gained by insisting that rules be followed <The teacher tried to maintain discipline.>



verb dis·ci·pline

Definition of discipline for Students


  1. 1 :  to punish as a way to bring about good behavior <The principal disciplined the troublemakers.>

  2. 2 :  to train in self-control or obedience <The diet disciplines overeaters.>

  3. 3 :  to bring under control <discipline troops>

Seen and Heard

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


to work hard

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of unctuous?

oily maudlin prompt angry
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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