fornication

noun

for·​ni·​ca·​tion ˌfȯr-nə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce fornication (audio)
: consensual (see consensual sense 2) sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other compare adultery

Did you know?

What’s the difference between adultery and fornication?

In case you were wondering, the words adultery and adult are not etymologically related (in other words, adultery didn’t grow out of adult in the way that punditry grew out of pundit). Although both words come from Latin and share the same first five letters, adultery is from adulterāre (“to pollute, defile, commit adultery”), a word formed ultimately from the Latin elements ad- “to, near” and alter “other.” English adult comes from adultus, which is the past participle of the Latin word adolescere (“to grow up”).

In legal use there is a difference between adultery and fornication. Adultery is only used when at least one of the parties involved (either male or female) is married, whereas fornication may be used to describe two people who are unmarried (to each other or anyone else) engaging in consensual sexual intercourse.

Examples of fornication in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Co-created by the Egyptian American comedian Ramy Youssef, the show gives viewers a peek into the dirty mind of an unmarried Muslim twentysomething struggling to reconcile his duelling devotions: faith and fornication. Jennifer Wilson, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2024 Because surely, surely, the housewives of Dublin were not so lustful that chance encounters with tradesmen led immediately to attacks of passion and fornication? Mary Costello, The New Yorker, 9 Oct. 2023 Charlotte, Harry, Lisa, and Herbert are gathered to send their kids off to summer camp, guaranteeing a few weeks of unfettered fornication. Aimée Lutkin, ELLE, 6 July 2023 Anthony Mackie and Zoë Chao star as a pair of astronauts stranded aboard a NASA shuttle that gets lost in space, and their decent onscreen chemistry helps fuel a rom-com tackling questions of fidelity, friendship and, well, fornication, as the would-be couple endlessly drifts through the cosmos. Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Mar. 2023 And fornication is punishable by what, my love? Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 20 May 2022 This judge, who believes gay people are disordered and that being transgender is a mental illness, also laments widespread contraception and the elimination of legal penalties for fornication and adultery. Globe Columnist, BostonGlobe.com, 15 Mar. 2023 During the Protestant Reformation, the Puritans considered carol singing unbiblical and suspiciously cheerful, and at least one Calvinist minister deemed it as grievous a sin as fornication. The Week Staff, The Week, 24 Dec. 2022 His lover was a married woman, Donna Lucrezia Castelli, and their clandestine fornication, some of it alfresco, produced a child. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 20 June 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fornication.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of fornication was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near fornication

Cite this Entry

“Fornication.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fornication. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

fornication

noun
for·​ni·​ca·​tion ˌfȯr-nə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce fornication (audio)
: sexual intercourse between two people who are not married to each other

Medical Definition

fornication

noun
for·​ni·​ca·​tion ˌfȯr-nə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce fornication (audio)
: consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other

Legal Definition

fornication

noun
for·​ni·​ca·​tion ˌfȯr-nə-ˈkā-shən How to pronounce fornication (audio)
: consensual sexual intercourse between a man and especially single woman who are not married to each other
also : the crime of engaging in fornication compare adultery

Note: Where still considered a crime, fornication is classified as a misdemeanor.

Etymology

Late Latin fornicatio, from fornicare to have intercourse with prostitutes, from Latin fornic-, fornix arch, vault, brothel

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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