at·​tain·​der ə-ˈtān-dər How to pronounce attainder (audio)
: extinction of the civil rights and capacities of a person upon sentence of death or outlawry usually after a conviction of treason
obsolete : dishonor

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Cromwell was declared guilty of treason by an act of attainder and so followed his own victims to the block. Allan Massie, WSJ, 2 Nov. 2018

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

Word History


Middle English attaynder, from Anglo-French ateindre conviction, from infinitive of ateindre

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of attainder was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near attainder

Cite this Entry

“Attainder.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


at·​tain·​der ə-ˈtān-dər How to pronounce attainder (audio)
: the taking away of a person's civil rights when that person has been declared an outlaw or sentenced to death

Legal Definition


at·​tain·​der ə-ˈtān-dər How to pronounce attainder (audio)
: the termination of the civil rights of a person upon a sentence of death or outlawry for treason or a felony see also bill of attainder at bill sense 1, corruption of blood

Note: In English law up to the nineteenth century, attainder was the harsh consequence of conviction for treason or a felony. It resulted in the forfeiture of the convicted person's property. It also involved corruption of blood, which barred the person from inheriting, retaining, or passing title, rank, or property. A person outlawed lost the right to seek protection under the law. Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits corruption of blood or forfeiture upon a conviction for treason “except during the life of the person attainted,” and Article I, Section 9 prohibits bills of attainder. Attainder was abolished in England in 1870.

History and Etymology for attainder

Anglo-French atteinder, from ateindre to convict, sentence, literally, to reach, attain, ultimately from Latin attingere to reach, from ad to + tangere to touch

More from Merriam-Webster on attainder

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Fashionable Words

  • dog-sunglasses-scarf
  • Which of these items is named for a deadly weapon?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?