law·​ful | \ ˈlȯ-fəl How to pronounce lawful (audio) \

Definition of lawful

1a : being in harmony with the law a lawful judgment
b : constituted, authorized, or established by law : rightful lawful institutions
2 : law-abiding lawful citizens

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from lawful

lawfully \ ˈlȯ-​f(ə-​)lē How to pronounce lawfully (audio) \ adverb
lawfulness \ ˈlȯ-​fəl-​nəs How to pronounce lawfulness (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for lawful



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for lawful

lawful, legal, legitimate, licit mean being in accordance with law. lawful may apply to conformity with law of any sort (such as natural, divine, common, or canon). the lawful sovereign legal applies to what is sanctioned by law or in conformity with the law, especially as it is written or administered by the courts. legal residents of the state legitimate may apply to a legal right or status but also, in extended use, to a right or status supported by tradition, custom, or accepted standards. a perfectly legitimate question about taxes licit applies to a strict conformity to the provisions of the law and applies especially to what is regulated by law. the licit use of drugs by doctors

Examples of lawful in a Sentence

a lawful search of the property hunting is a lawful activity only if you have the proper license
Recent Examples on the Web The program’s seven hundred thousand recipients have become the main mooring for the rest of their families, who often depend on their salaries and lawful status for food, medical care, and visibility. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, "What the Supreme Court’s Surprise Decision on DACA Means for Hundreds of Thousands of Dreamers," 18 June 2020 David Hagar, a spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene police, said the activity is lawful, leaving local authorities with few options to diffuse the tension that has marked recent downtown protests. Anchorage Daily News, "As protests spread to small-town America, militia groups respond with armed intimidation and online threats," 18 June 2020 The prosecutors are tasked with determining whether officers’ actions are reasonable and lawful. oregonlive, "Clark County prosecutor to send fatal police shooting review to office outside county," 16 June 2020 But the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has deemed New Jersey’s process lawful since 2013. Robert Barnes,, "Supreme Court passes up challenges from gun groups on laws they say violate Second Amendment," 15 June 2020 Fear of litigation could cause some online providers to take down lawful speech proactively, harming online freedom of speech. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "The Internet’s most important—and misunderstood—law, explained," 10 June 2020 The Iran-Contra affair under Reagan and the Ukraine scandal under Trump would be deemed unambiguously lawful. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Bill Barr’s Invisible Crusade," 8 June 2020 Though the ruling directs commanders to issue lawful orders to remove the Confederate flag, the ruling doesn't detail a specific date when the removal should take place or any consequences of not abiding by the new rule. Leah Asmelash, CNN, "Marines ban depictions of the Confederate flag, including on bumper stickers and mugs," 7 June 2020 Whereas, say, British gamblers have been able to bet legally online under lockdown, Americans face a patchwork of state laws that give limited options for lawful remote betting. The Economist, "All bets are off Covid-19 has driven American gamblers online," 7 June 2020

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about lawful

Time Traveler for lawful

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for lawful

Last Updated

29 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Lawful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for lawful


How to pronounce lawful (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of lawful

: allowed by the law
: according to the law


law·​ful | \ ˈlȯ-fəl How to pronounce lawful (audio) \

Kids Definition of lawful

1 : permitted by law lawful conduct
2 : recognized by law She's the property's lawful owner.

Other Words from lawful

lawfully \ -​fə-​lē \ adverb



Legal Definition of lawful

1a : being in harmony with the law a lawful judgment a lawful purpose
b : constituted, authorized, or established by law a lawful duty
2 : law-abiding lawful citizens

Other Words from lawful

lawfully adverb
lawfulness noun

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on lawful

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for lawful

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with lawful

Spanish Central: Translation of lawful

Nglish: Translation of lawful for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of lawful for Arabic Speakers

Comments on lawful

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!