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: something compatible with or enforceable by established law The decrees were judged not to be law and were therefore rescinded.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

There are plenty of predictions about how cannabis farming is poised to go corporate, but Big Marijuana is not inevitable, says Ryan Stoa, a professor of law at Concordia University. Angela Chen, The Verge, "Why the future of marijuana farming could be craft weed," 21 Nov. 2018 With the holidays comes the annual race to find the perfect gift for every person in your life, from your cool coworker to your finicky college roommate and your discerning brother-in-law. Asad Syrkett, Curbed, "21 holiday gifts for people who like nice things," 15 Nov. 2018 Under current federal law, cannabis and anything derived from the plant (including CBD) is considered a Schedule I drug. Sarah Jacoby, SELF, "Updated: What You Need to Know About Epidiolex, the First FDA-Approved Drug Made From Cannabis," 1 Nov. 2018 For example, entrance to our attractions is generally free, because in Iceland, like in the Nordic cultures, it's written in law about the public's right to roam. Katherine Lagrave, Condé Nast Traveler, "Iceland Is Not Overrun With Tourists, Despite What Everyone Says," 25 Oct. 2018 And the laws of quantum mechanics limit them to specific energy levels around atoms and molecules. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "How Quantum Mechanics Lets Us See, Smell and Touch," 24 Oct. 2018 The goal of the law is to battle a grassroots boycott movement, known as BDS, which has found growing support in the United States in recent years. Fox News, "US graduate student detained in Israel for alleged pro-Palestinian boycott support," 9 Oct. 2018 After decades of war, bitter divisions, and distrust of the government, many residents welcomed the takeover as the lesser evil, finding hope in the militants’ promise: a better life, rule of law, a place where Sunni Muslims could live without fear. Sophia Jones, Marie Claire, "The Truth About The Wives of ISIS," 4 Oct. 2018 Testing out many of the pieces were Ashe’s sister and brother-in-law [Alexi Ashe and Seth Meyers]. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, "Interior Firm Ashe Leandro Pays Homage to Design Greats With a New Line of Furniture," 31 Oct. 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

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Statistics for law

Last Updated

26 Nov 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

History and Etymology for law

Old English lagu, of Scandinavian origin

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More from Merriam-Webster on law

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with law

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for law

Spanish Central: Translation of law

Nglish: Translation of law for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of law for Arabic Speakers

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