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dis·​ci·​pline ˈdi-sə-plən How to pronounce discipline (audio)
: control gained by enforcing obedience or order
: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
: a field of study
: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity
obsolete : instruction
disciplinal adjective


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disciplined; disciplining

transitive verb

: to punish or penalize for the sake of enforcing obedience and perfecting moral character
: to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control
: to bring (a group) under control
discipline troops
: to impose order upon
serious writers discipline and refine their writing styles
discipliner noun

Did you know?

The Root and Meanings of Discipline

Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil, which also provided the source of the word disciple (albeit by way of a Late Latin sense-shift to “a follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime”). Given that several meanings of discipline deal with study, governing one’s behavior, and instruction, one might assume that the word’s first meaning in English had to do with education. In fact, the earliest known use of discipline appears to be punishment-related; it first was used in the 13th century to refer to chastisement of a religious nature, such as self-flagellation.

Choose the Right Synonym for discipline

punish, chastise, castigate, chasten, discipline, correct mean to inflict a penalty on in requital for wrongdoing.

punish implies subjecting to a penalty for wrongdoing.

punished for stealing

chastise may apply to either the infliction of corporal punishment or to verbal censure or denunciation.

chastised his son for neglecting his studies

castigate usually implies a severe, typically public censure.

an editorial castigating the entire city council

chasten suggests any affliction or trial that leaves one humbled or subdued.

chastened by a landslide election defeat

discipline implies a punishing or chastening in order to bring under control.

parents must discipline their children

correct implies punishing aimed at reforming an offender.

the function of prison is to correct the wrongdoer

teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline, school mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill.

teach applies to any manner of imparting information or skill so that others may learn.

taught us a lot about our planet

instruct suggests methodical or formal teaching.

instructs raw recruits in military drill

educate implies development of the mind.

more things than formal schooling serve to educate a person

train stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view.

trained foreign pilots to operate the new aircraft

discipline implies training in habits of order and precision.

a disciplined mind

school implies training or disciplining especially in what is hard to master.

schooled the horse in five gaits

Example Sentences

Noun Sir Robert Peel is credited with creating the first modern police force, the bobbies, in London, in 1829, but the transformation of law enforcement, and especially forensic science, into a professional discipline was a haphazard affair. Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, 7 May 2007
Pragmatism became America's most important contribution to the life of the mind in the 20th century. Filtered through scores of later interpreters, it percolated across a broad segment of academic culture and influenced disciplines as diverse as literary criticism and legal theory. Theo Anderson, Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2007
So the next fall I went to Hampshire College and began studying under Herbert Bernstein. Without him, I would never have become a scientist. He shamed me into doing the hard work necessary to be able not just to talk about math and physics but to calculate. Without that discipline, my story would have been very different … Lee Smolin, Curious Minds, (2004) 2005
He stood erect, his bearing patrician, his dress impeccable. His face was stern and his pale eyes unsmiling behind his trifocals, like a man who had been called from important duties in the principal's office to administer discipline to an unruly classroom. Nick Taylor, Laser, 2000
The teacher has a hard time maintaining discipline in the classroom. The troops were praised for their dedication and discipline. Some parents feel that the school's principal has been too harsh in meting out discipline. Keeping a journal is a good discipline for a writer. Verb The Army disciplined seven men for the incident, penalties ranging from pay-cuts and loss of rank to dismissal from the Rangers and return to the rank-and-file Army. Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, 11 Sept. 2006
Volunteers have to undergo a program to discipline the mind and cleanse the soul. Aparism Ghosh, Time, 4 July 2005
The teacher then took me to the principal's office. There, the principal attempted to discipline me with an old Catholic school technique called "paddling" … Lalo Gomez, Undoing Time, 2001
She was disciplined for misbehaving in class. He seems unwilling or unable to discipline his children. I'm trying to discipline myself to eat less. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
The league said the discipline was in response to Morant’s live streaming of a video on March 4 in which he was seen holding a firearm in an intoxicated state. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 15 Mar. 2023 But Basso's letter does not appear in his file, and his file does not include any details about the discipline or the complaints that led to the state's investigation. Katherine Kokal, USA TODAY, 6 Mar. 2023 None of those songs appear on the new album, but the discipline prepared him for co-writing the tunes. Melinda Newman, Billboard, 2 Mar. 2023 But even today, academic departments teaching the discipline of photography as an art form are rare, and photography is not well represented in Chinese art museums. Roger Catlin, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 Feb. 2023 Having the income to withstand a 911 Turbo into your budget is one thing, but having the discipline to keep your driver's license after buying one is another. Car and Driver, 22 Feb. 2023 And the discipline of the market — from the cost of insurance to the tastes of the car buyer — should dictate our choices, not the edicts of central planners drunk on their own righteousness. The Editors, National Review, 15 Feb. 2023 However, Sweet-Cushman notes that a department’s gender makeup likely reflects existing biases within the discipline and that those biases cause the evaluation disparities. Byluis Melecio-zambrano, science.org, 20 Jan. 2023 How will Schwartz change the discipline on the defensive side of the ball? Dan Labbe, cleveland, 19 Jan. 2023
Twelve led to discipline, of which the most severe was a 40-hour suspension. Philip K. Howard, National Review, 2 Mar. 2023 The boy was released about a minute after the officer handcuffed him, but throughout the encounter, the police encourage the mother to physically discipline her child. Michael George, CBS News, 28 Mar. 2021 Next week, almost eight months after the first rebel tournament, arbitrators in London will weigh the tour’s choice to discipline defectors. Alan Blinder, New York Times, 2 Feb. 2023 And in her Vogue interview, Pam explained her approach to discipline as well as self care. Jacqueline Tempera, Women's Health, 27 Jan. 2023 But he was reinstated in 2019 after an arbitrator concluded the department had missed a 180-day legal window to discipline him. Eric Dexheimer, San Antonio Express-News, 7 Dec. 2022 Which reindeer does Santa always have to discipline? Clare Mulroy, USA TODAY, 10 Nov. 2022 There’s also the all-American prospect of more sweeping nationalization, a tool used frequently throughout U.S. history in times of crisis, including to discipline the fossil fuel industry. Kate Aronoff, The New Republic, 21 Oct. 2022 If Golden State does discipline Green, that also would not be a first. C.j. Holmes, San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Oct. 2022 See More

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

Word History



Middle English, "chastisement, system of ordered conduct, instruction, branch of learning," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin disciplīna "teaching, instruction, branch of study, orderly conduct based on moral training" (Medieval Latin, "chastisement, scourging"), from discipulus "pupil, learner" + -īna, suffix denoting a place or practice (from noun derivative of feminine of -īnus -ine entry 1) — more at disciple


Middle English disciplinen "to subject to chastisement, educate," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French discipliner, borrowed from Late Latin disciplīnāre "to teach" (Medieval Latin, "to punish, scourge"), derivative of Latin disciplīna "teaching, discipline entry 1"

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of discipline was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near discipline

Cite this Entry

“Discipline.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discipline. Accessed 28 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
dis·​ci·​pline ˈdis-ə-plən How to pronounce discipline (audio)
: a field of study : subject
: strict training that corrects or strengthens mental ability or moral character
: control gained by enforcing obedience or order
trying to maintain discipline
: a system of rules governing conduct


2 of 2 verb
disciplined; disciplining
: to punish or penalize for the sake of discipline
: to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control
: to bring under control
discipline troops
discipliner noun

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