adul·​tery | \ ə-ˈdəl-t(ə-)rē How to pronounce adultery (audio) \
plural adulteries

Definition of adultery

: voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person's current spouse or partner also : an act of adultery

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What’s the difference between adultery and fornication?

In case you were wondering, the words adultery and adult are not etymologically related (in other words, adultery didn’t grow out of adult in the way that punditry grew out of pundit). Although both words come from Latin and share the same first five letters, adultery is from adulterāre (“to pollute, defile, commit adultery”), a word formed ultimately from the Latin elements ad- “to, near” and alter “other.” English adult comes from adultus, which is the past participle of the Latin word adolescere (“to grow up”).

In legal use there is a difference between adultery and fornication. Adultery is only used when at least one of the parties involved (either male or female) is married, whereas fornication may be used to describe two people who are unmarried (to each other or anyone else) engaging in consensual sexual intercourse.

Examples of adultery in a Sentence

He found out that his wife had committed adultery. She accused her husband of adultery.
Recent Examples on the Web Firl, who attends a Church of the Brethren congregation in Frederick, Maryland, portrays the titular Christ in a pilot version of the film that focuses on the biblical story of a woman who committed adultery. Washington Post, "At Gallaudet University, deaf culture and faith mix," 28 Dec. 2019 Boleyn was arrested along with five men she was accused of committing adultery with — one of whom was her own brother George — in May of 1536. Suyin Haynes, Time, "Anne Boleyn Has Had a Bad Reputation for Nearly 500 Years. Here's How One Historian Wants to Change That," 2 Dec. 2019 Nolan suspects there was more to the story than adultery, a contentious issue about which historians have disagreed for decades. Suyin Haynes, Time, "Anne Boleyn Has Had a Bad Reputation for Nearly 500 Years. Here's How One Historian Wants to Change That," 2 Dec. 2019 In a 2016 Pew poll of nine countries, the United States had the highest disapproval of adultery, with 84% of Americans disapproving. Jason Silverstein, CBS News, ""Things are opening up": Non-monogamy is more common than you'd think," 27 Oct. 2019 The sonnets appended to the sermons are a gloss of Psalm 51, in which King David repents of his adultery with Bathsheba. Jamie Quatro, The New Yorker, "The Hidden Life of a Forgotten Sixteenth-Century Female Poet," 5 Aug. 2019 In 1990, Trump himself took the Fifth 97 times to avoid answering questions, mostly about his adultery, during a divorce deposition. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Michael Cohen will take the Fifth. Trump has said innocent people don’t do that.," 26 Apr. 2018 When that happens, the church offers a process for forgiveness of adultery, in recognition of the belief that Jesus gave his life in atonement for sins, including these kinds of sins. Mary Beth Mccauley, The Christian Science Monitor, "Is chastity old-fashioned? An NFL veteran’s take on Seventh Commandment.," 6 Dec. 2019 In other Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei and Somalia, adultery is also criminalized. Washington Post, "He helped write Indonesia’s strict adultery laws. Then he had an affair and was publicly flogged 28 times.," 1 Nov. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'adultery.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of adultery

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for adultery

Middle English adultrye, adultery, alteration (conformed to Latin adulterium) of avoutrie, advoutrie, alteration (with addition of suffix -ie -y entry 2) of avoutre, borrowed from Anglo-French avulteire, avouteire, going back to Latin adulterium, from adulterāre "to defile by adultery, commit adultery with, pollute" + -ium deverbal noun suffix — more at adulterate entry 1

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Time Traveler for adultery

Time Traveler

The first known use of adultery was in the 15th century

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Statistics for adultery

Last Updated

20 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Adultery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for adultery


How to pronounce adultery (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of adultery

: sex between a married person and someone who is not that person's wife or husband


adul·​tery | \ ə-ˈdəl-tə-rē \

Legal Definition of adultery

: voluntary sexual activity (as sexual intercourse) between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband also : the crime of adultery — compare fornication

Other Words from adultery

adulterer \ ə-​ˈdəl-​tə-​rər How to pronounce adulterer (audio) \ noun
adulteress \ -​tə-​rəs How to pronounce adulteress (audio) \ noun

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