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 Another possibility is that Henry ordered likenesses of his fifth queen destroyed following her execution on charges of adultery. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "Presumed Portrait of Catherine Howard May Actually Depict Anne of Cleves," 7 May 2021 On that recent Sunday at The Arsenal, Belew’s sermon tackled the perspective of Jesus from the famous Bible passage where the Pharisees confront Christ with how to punish a woman accused of adultery. René A. Guzman, San Antonio Express-News, "From Army interrogator to pastor: The unlikely tale of how this tattooed motorcycle lover came to lead a Southtown church," 29 Apr. 2021 Under the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women accused of adultery were stoned to death; those who flashed a bare ankle from under the shroud of a burqa were whipped. Time, "President Joe Biden Is Withdrawing U.S. Forces from Afghanistan. What Happens Now?," 14 Apr. 2021 Because her theory of adultery wasn’t unilaterally critical, she was accused of championing a theory- of love that celebrated deception. Maya Binyam, Vulture, "Esther Perel Goes Off Script," 13 Apr. 2021 Renlund shared the biblical story of the woman accused of adultery. The Salt Lake Tribune, "LDS General Conference recap: Speakers address politics, racism, cyberbullying, abortion, inclusion and more," 4 Apr. 2021 In that exchange, Diana told Martin Bashir about Prince Charles and his adultery, her bulimia and not getting support from the palace. Washington Post, "Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah stunned. But it’s unlikely to change the monarchy.," 7 Mar. 2021 Without the adultery, this relationship would not exist. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Friendship has great benefits, but little luck," 2 Feb. 2021 Without the adultery, this relationship would not exist. Amy Dickinson, Star Tribune, "Ask Amy: Friendship has great benefits, but little luck," 1 Feb. 2021

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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Learn More about adultery

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

9 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Adultery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for adultery



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 adultery (audio) \ noun
adulteress \ -​tə-​rəs How to pronounce adultery (audio) \ noun

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Comments on adultery

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