\ˈlȯ \

Definition of law 

(Entry 1 of 6)

1a(1) : a binding custom or practice of a community : a rule of conduct or action prescribed (see prescribe sense 1a) or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority

(2) : the whole body of such customs, practices, or rules The courts exist to uphold, interpret, and apply the law.

(3) : common law

b(1) : the control brought about by the existence or enforcement of such law preserved law and order in the town

(2) : the action of laws considered as a means of redressing wrongs also : litigation developed the habit of going to law over the slightest provocation — H. A. Overstreet

(3) : the agency of or an agent of established law When he saw that the fighting was escalating, he called in the law.

c : a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe a law of self-preservation

d : something compatible with or enforceable by established law The decrees were judged not to be law and were therefore rescinded.

e : control, authority The child submits to no law.

2a often capitalized : the revelation of the will of God set forth in the Old Testament

b capitalized : the first part of the Jewish scriptures : pentateuch, torah — see Bible Table

3 : a rule of construction or procedure the laws of poetry

4 : the whole body of laws relating to one subject criminal law probate law

5a : the legal profession studied for a career in law

b : law as a department of knowledge : jurisprudence

c : legal knowledge a man with much history but little law

6a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions a law of thermodynamics Boyle's law

b : a general relation proved or assumed to hold between mathematical or logical expressions

at law

: under or within the provisions of the law enforceable at law


lawed; lawing; laws

Definition of law (Entry 2 of 6)

transitive verb

chiefly dialectal : to sue or prosecute at law


biographical name (1)
\ˈlȯ \

Definition of Law (Entry 3 of 6)

(Andrew) Bon*ar \ˈbä-nər \ 1858–1923 British (Canadian-born) statesman


biographical name (2)

Definition of Law (Entry 4 of 6)

Edward 1750–1818 1st Baron Ellenborough \ˈe-lən-ˌbər-ə, -ˌbə-rə, -brə\ English jurist


biographical name (3)

Definition of Law (Entry 5 of 6)

John 1671–1729 Scottish financier and speculator


biographical name (4)

Definition of Law (Entry 6 of 6)

William 1686–1761 English writer

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Choose the Right Synonym for law


law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure. law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority. obey the law rule applies to more restricted or specific situations. the rules of the game regulation implies prescription by authority in order to control an organization or system. regulations affecting nuclear power plants precept commonly suggests something advisory and not obligatory communicated typically through teaching. the precepts of effective writing statute implies a law enacted by a legislative body. a statute requiring the use of seat belts ordinance applies to an order governing some detail of procedure or conduct enforced by a limited authority such as a municipality. a city ordinance canon suggests in nonreligious use a principle or rule of behavior or procedure commonly accepted as a valid guide. the canons of good taste

synonyms see in addition hypothesis

Examples of law in a Sentence


The courts exist to uphold, interpret, and apply the law. a lawyer who specializes in criminal law In our civics class we learned how a bill becomes a law. She has proposed a new law to protect people from being evicted unfairly. Schools are required by law to provide a safe learning environment. The bill will become law at the beginning of the year. He's been in and out of trouble with the law for the last 10 years.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The scrutiny intensified Friday when the state’s attorney general directed the state consumer-protection agency to look into whether marketing practices at Temple broke the law, and if the university’s other schools falsified student data. Kelsey Gee, WSJ, "Temple University Fires a Dean Over Falsified M.B.A. Rankings Data," 13 July 2018 But the bill is not without controversy: Some scientists and environmental groups say Young's revisions to the law would be damaging and result in overfishing. Erica Martinson, Anchorage Daily News, "Don Young’s bill to revise Magnuson-Stevens fishing law passes U.S. House," 13 July 2018 Rallies against the proposed law took place around the country. Fox News, "Vietnam to try American for disturbing order in protests," 13 July 2018 If passed, the new legislation would also change the education laws to establish safe walking home zones-- local chambers of commerce would construct these pathways to and from schools. Danielle Garrand, CBS News, "Justice For Junior: NY proposes legislation to require small businesses to be safe havens for minors," 13 July 2018 Current Time 0:00 / Duration 1:59 Naked criminals exposed Advertisement When naked criminals tangle with the law, things get a bit blurry. Matthew Martinez, star-telegram, "‘Commotion’ in the courthouse stairwell was an inmate having sex with a woman, La. cops say," 13 July 2018 Chief Justice Dipak Misra indicated the apex court would likely decriminalize the law. Jennie Neufeld, Vox, "Vox Sentences: NATOhhh no...," 12 July 2018 The law that prevents nude or semi-nude performers from being touched by or touching audience members was passed in 2007, but Daniels is only the 23rd person to be arrested for it, per TMZ. Sarah Spellings, The Cut, "Stormy Daniels Arrested While Performing at Strip Club," 12 July 2018 The 1942 law that prohibits them is unevenly enforced. Ted Slowik, Daily Southtown, "Slowik: I’m for legalizing fireworks if taxes fund safety education," 11 July 2018

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)


circa 1550, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for law


Middle English, from Old English lagu, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse lǫg law; akin to Old English licgan to lie — more at lie


see law entry 1


Old English lagu, of Scandinavian origin

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Dictionary Entries near law








Statistics for law

Last Updated

15 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for law

The first known use of law was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for law



English Language Learners Definition of law

: the whole system or set of rules made by the government of a town, state, country, etc.

: a particular kind of law

: a rule made by the government of a town, state, country, etc.


\ˈlȯ \

Kids Definition of law

1 : a rule of conduct or action that a nation or a group of people agrees to follow

2 : a whole collection of established rules the law of the land

3 : a rule or principle that always works the same way under the same conditions the law of gravity

4 : a bill passed by a legislature

6 : the profession of a lawyer


\ˈlȯ \

Medical Definition of law 

: a statement of order or relation holding for certain phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions

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\ˈlȯ \

Legal Definition of law 

1 : a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority: as

a : a command or provision enacted by a legislature — see also statute sense 1

b : something (as a judicial decision) authoritatively accorded binding or controlling effect in the administration of justice that case is no longer the law of this circuit

2a : a body of laws the law of a state broadly : laws and justice considered as a general and established entity the law looks with disfavor on restraints on alienation

b : common law — compare equity sense 2

3a : the control or authority of the law maintain law and order

b : one or more agents or agencies involved in enforcing laws

c : the application of a law or laws as distinct from considerations of fact an error of law — see also issue of law at issue, matter of law at matter, question of law at question sense 2

4 : the whole body of laws and doctrines relating to one subject contract law the law of attractive nuisance

5a : the legal profession practice law

b : the nature, use, and effects of laws and legal systems as an area of knowledge or society the politics of law — compare jurisprudence

at law

: under or within the provisions of the law especially as opposed to equity a remedy at law

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