eth·​ic | \ ˈe-thik How to pronounce ethic (audio) \

Definition of ethic

1 ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2a : a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values the present-day materialistic ethic an old-fashioned work ethic often used in plural but singular or plural in construction an elaborate ethicsChristian ethics
b ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group professional ethics
c : a guiding philosophy
d : a consciousness of moral importance forge a conservation ethic
3 ethics plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness) debated the ethics of human cloning

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Ethics vs Morals: Is there a difference?

Ethics and morals are both used in the plural and are often regarded as synonyms, but there is some distinction in how they are used.

Morals often describes one's particular values concerning what is right and what is wrong:

It would go against my morals to help you cheat on the test.

He appears to view himself as a kind of culture warrior, striking out against the crumbling morals of modern society.
Jonathan Goldsbie, Now Toronto, 16 Oct. 2014

While ethics can refer broadly to moral principles, one often sees it applied to questions of correct behavior within a relatively narrow area of activity:

Our class had a debate over the ethics of genetic testing.

Anybody, it seemed, could make the music -- if they couldn't play guitar, they could push a button -- and nobody worried about the ethics of appropriating riffs.
Jennifer Foote, Newsweek, 23 July 1990

In addition, morals usually connotes an element of subjective preference, while ethics tends to suggest aspects of universal fairness and the question of whether or not an action is responsible:

Perhaps you don’t like Kim Kardashian, or her family, or her morals don’t align with yours, or you just think it’s weird that she might have had some plastic surgery, likes to apply makeup in a really complicated way and named her kid “Saint.”
Sarah Boboltz, The Huffington Post, 12 Oct. 2016

The Frenches, both professors in The Media School, focused on the ethics of making medical decisions for a child who could not express her own wishes yet…
Chris Mura, Indiana Daily Student, 18 Oct. 2016

Examples of ethic in a Sentence

Ethics is his chosen field of study.

Recent Examples on the Web

Bernhardt, a former lobbyist, took over as Trump’s Interior secretary in April after predecessor Ryan Zinke stepped down amid ethics allegations. Ian James, azcentral, "Federal agency stands by disputed decision on Arizona development near San Pedro River," 19 June 2019 Her career was spent in support for women in politics, democracy building, political ethics, and anti-corruption practices., "Vaira Paegle," 18 June 2019 As a result of a state criminal investigation, McFaul ultimately admitted to two felony counts of theft in office and a misdemeanor ethics violation in 2009. Robert Higgs,, "Opponents of plan to return to elected Cuyahoga County sheriff stir memories of the corrupt days of Gerald McFaul," 17 June 2019 Taft has earned $554,642 of your tax money since the contract was signed in August of 2016 and has alleged a handful of ethics violations — some of which were known before the contract was ever signed. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Gov. Matt Bevin positions himself as anti-corruption, but his own office is acting corrupt," 17 June 2019 The debate centers on how the party competes with a sitting president who so openly flouts the norms of political conduct and ethics and whether Democrats should consider doing the same. David Nakamura, Anchorage Daily News, "‘There’s no accountability’: Trump and White House aides signal willingness to act with impunity in drive for re-election," 17 June 2019 BBB Center for Ethics - $5,000 BBB provides ethics training for groups throughout the Cincinnati area, including Cincinnati Public Schools, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati and Youth to Work. Rachel Berry,, "3 Greater Cincinnati nonprofits receive grants from A Community Thrives," 17 June 2019 The seven-member Florida Commission on Ethics, in a voice vote, accepted the settlement, which included dropping four of five charges of ethics violations., "Andrew Gillum’s $5,000 settlement accepted by state ethics panel," 6 June 2019 Hubbard’s lawyers will appear before the Alabama Supreme Court today – two years, 10 months and 27 days after he was sentenced for shattering the ethics law with a dozen convictions for using his office for personal gain. John Archibald |,, "Alabama court to decide if ignorance of the powerful is excused," 4 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ethic.' 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 ethic

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ethic

Middle English ethik, from Middle French ethique, from Latin ethice, from Greek ēthikē, from ēthikos

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Statistics for ethic

Last Updated

22 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for ethic

The first known use of ethic was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for ethic



English Language Learners Definition of ethic

: rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
: an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior : a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong
: a belief that something is very important

More from Merriam-Webster on ethic

Nglish: Translation of ethic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ethic for Arabic Speakers

Comments on ethic

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showing courage and determination

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