fel·o·ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
plural felonies

Definition of felony 

1 : an act on the part of a feudal vassal (see vassal sense 1) involving the forfeiture of his fee

2a : a grave crime formerly differing from a misdemeanor (see misdemeanor sense 1) under English common law by involving forfeiture in addition to any other punishment

b : a grave crime (such as murder or rape) declared to be a felony by the common law or by statute regardless of the punishment actually imposed

c : a crime declared a felony by statute because of the punishment imposed

d : a crime for which the punishment in federal law may be death or imprisonment for more than one year

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

In US law, a felony is typically defined as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one year or by the death penalty. Misdemeanors, in contrast, are often defined as offenses punishable only by fines or by short terms of imprisonment in local jails. Originally, in English law, a felony was a crime for which the perpetrator would suffer forfeiture of all real and personal property as well as whatever sentence was imposed. Under US law, there is no forfeiture of all of the felon’s property, and it is not part of the definition. For certain crimes, however, such as some kinds of racketeering, specific property is subject to forfeiture.

Examples of felony in a Sentence

The crime is considered a felony under state law. He was convicted of felony murder.

Recent Examples on the Web

But there are countless people living quietly and whose time in the criminal justice system is years in the past, but who, because of the ever-expanding tally of consequences for felony convictions, feel permanently confined. Campbell Robertson, New York Times, "Pardon Seekers Have a New Strategy in the Trump Era: ‘It’s Who You Know’," 12 July 2018 The primary grant for major party candidates is $1.35 million under the Citizens’ Election Program, which Ganim was ruled ineligible for because of his felony public corruption conviction during his first stint as mayor of the state’s largest city. Neil Vigdor, courant.com, "Joe Ganim Approaches $800K Fundraising Mark In Governor's Race," 9 July 2018 And in Louisiana, Demario Davis and Benjamin Watson wrote a letter endorsing legislation to restore voting rights to those with past felony convictions who have been out of prison for five years. Jenny Vrentas, SI.com, "For Many NFL Players, Summer Doesn't Bring Much of a Break," 9 July 2018 Bakalis said the sentence was based in part of Liszka’s criminal history, which includes seven previous felony convictions, primarily on drug charges, and a previous term in prison. Clifford Ward, Naperville Sun, "Former Melrose Park man gets 18 years for supplying heroin that led to death of Naperville man," 3 July 2018 Last year, Justice Grant wrote an opinion overturning the felony murder conviction of a woman whose husband shot and killed a police officer—and less than two months later authored a second opinion restoring the conviction. Wsj Staff, WSJ, "Potential Nominees to the Supreme Court," 27 June 2018 Prince has an extensive criminal record that includes 42 arrests and 15 felony convictions in Delaware. Fox News, "Maryland office park killing suspect sentenced in Delaware," 22 June 2018 Court records said Williams has previous felony convictions. Kaitlyn Schwers, kansascity, "They were arguing over a woman — then one started shooting, Missouri cops say," 20 June 2018 Acevedo's criminal background includes dozens of arrests since 2000 and six felony convictions, mostly for drug offenses, and eight misdemeanor convictions. William Lee, chicagotribune.com, "Chicago cops investigating how suspect got loaded handgun into police lockup," 19 June 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for felony

see felon entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about felony

Dictionary Entries near felony








Statistics for felony

Last Updated

24 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for felony

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for felony



English Language Learners Definition of felony

law : a serious crime (such as murder or rape)


fel·o·ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
plural felonies

Kids Definition of felony

: a very serious crime


fel·o·ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
plural felonies

Legal Definition of felony 

: a crime that has a greater punishment imposed by statute than that imposed on a misdemeanor specifically : a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than a year — see also attainder, treason

Note: Originally in English law a felony was a crime for which the perpetrator would suffer forfeiture of all real and personal property as well as whatever sentence was imposed. Under U.S. law, there is no forfeiture of all of the felon's property (real or personal) and such forfeiture is not part of the definition of a felony. For certain crimes, however (as for a conviction under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or a narcotics law), specific property, such as that used in or gained by the crime, is subject to forfeiture. Every state has its own statutory definition of a felony. Most are in line with the federal definition of a felony as a crime which carries a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year or the death penalty (where applicable). Other states, like Louisiana, define a felony as a crime which carries a sentence of death or imprisonment at hard labor.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on felony

Spanish Central: Translation of felony

Nglish: Translation of felony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of felony for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about felony

Comments on felony

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


to reject or criticize sharply

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!