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


adjective le·nient \ˈlē-nē-ənt, -nyənt\

Simple Definition of lenient

  • : allowing a lot of freedom and not punishing bad behavior in a strong way : not harsh, severe, or strict

Full Definition of lenient

  1. 1 :  exerting a soothing or easing influence :  relieving pain or stress

  2. 2 :  of mild and tolerant disposition; especially :  indulgent

le·nient·ly adverb

Examples of lenient

  1. By giving one more person—the executive—the power to reduce (but not to increase) punishments, our constitutions (both Federal and state) seem to be sending an important message: that in a world in which errors are inevitable, it is better to err on the side of overly lenient, rather than overly harsh, punishment. —Alan M. Dershowitz, New York Times Book Review, 16 July 1989

  2. He could trust himself, he said … to be more lenient than perhaps his father had been to himself; his danger, he said … would be rather in the direction of being too indulgent … —Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, 1903

  3. But in other points, as well as this, I was growing very lenient to my master: I was forgetting all his faults, for which I had once kept a sharp look-out. —Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847

  4. a teacher who is lenient with students who have misbehaved

  5. Many people felt that the punishment was too lenient.

Origin of lenient

Latin lenient-, leniens, present participle of lenire to soften, soothe, from lenis soft, mild; probably akin to Lithuanian lėnas tranquil — more at let

First Known Use: 1652

Seen and Heard

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


February 13, 2016

a trying or distressing experience

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


How much does a batman (the Turkish unit of measurement) weigh?

16.96 pounds 2.2 pounds 100 pounds 196.5 pounds
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


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