crim·​i·​nal·​ize | \ ˈkri-mə-nə-ˌlīz How to pronounce criminalize (audio) , ˈkrim-nə-ˌlīz\
criminalized; criminalizing

Definition of criminalize

transitive verb

: to make illegal also : to turn into a criminal or treat as criminal

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from criminalize

criminalization \ ˌkri-​mə-​nə-​lə-​ˈzā-​shən How to pronounce criminalization (audio) , ˌkrim-​nə-​lə-​ˈzā-​ \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for criminalize



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of criminalize in a Sentence

a law that criminalized alcohol wanted to criminalize an activity that the mountaineers had been engaging in for generations
Recent Examples on the Web City council members Kerry McCormack and Matt Zone, who attended the ride-along, invited CPT to work with them on efforts to de-criminalize fair evasion. Courtney Astolfi, cleveland, "Transit advocates propose changes to speed up buses on RTA’s Healthline," 25 Oct. 2019 Pagitt noted that there is a divide between pro-life voters who want to reverse Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortions, and those who are primarily focussed on reducing their number. Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker, "Teaching Democrats to Speak Evangelical," 19 Oct. 2019 Indiana originally criminalized the possession of smokeable hemp in its 2019 law because of the difficulty in distinguishing it from marijuana. Sarah Bowman, Indianapolis Star, "Inside the 'wild wild west' of Indiana's first major hemp harvest," 16 Oct. 2019 Attorneys from Neighborhood Legal Services intervened four days later, citing a recent court ruling that criminalizing sleeping in public streets while shelter space is inadequate is unconstitutional. Los Angeles Times, "Locked out of L.A.'s white neighborhoods, they built a black suburb. Now they’re homeless," 9 Sep. 2019 The ruling determined that criminalizing public sleeping is unconstitutional when there is inadequate shelter space. Tim Craig, Anchorage Daily News, "Should people have a legal right to sleep on city streets? The nation’s homeless crisis sparks a partisan battle.," 23 Aug. 2019 The Epstein case gets weirder—and worse, India criminalizes instant divorce, and Cambridge goes full Kafka. Fortune, "A Misconduct No Man’s Land at Cambridge: The Broadsheet," 1 Aug. 2019 The law would also criminalize intentional infractions of a new set of rules, exposing voting advocates to misdemeanor charges. Jonathan Mattise,, "Judge blocks Tennessee voter sign-up penalties, citing harm," 12 Sep. 2019 Homosexuality is criminalized in more than half of African countries, many of which inherited penal codes from colonial powers such as Britain. Max Bearak, Washington Post, "Botswana legalizes homosexuality, striking down colonial-era laws," 11 June 2019

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

See More

First Known Use of criminalize

circa 1956, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for criminalize

criminal entry 1 + -ize

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about criminalize

Time Traveler for criminalize

Time Traveler

The first known use of criminalize was circa 1956

See more words from the same year

Statistics for criminalize

Last Updated

15 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Criminalize.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 22 November 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for criminalize


How to pronounce criminalize (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of criminalize

: to make (something) illegal


transitive verb
crim·​i·​nal·​ize | \ ˈkri-mə-nə-ˌlīz How to pronounce criminalize (audio) \
criminalized; criminalizing

Legal Definition of criminalize

: to make criminal : outlaw the statute criminalizing the use of contraceptives— R. H. Bork — compare illegalize

Other Words from criminalize

criminalization \ ˌkri-​mə-​nə-​lə-​ˈzā-​shən, -​ˌlī-​ How to pronounce criminalization (audio) \ noun

More from Merriam-Webster on criminalize

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for criminalize

Comments on criminalize

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


not agreeing with established beliefs

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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