le·gal | \ ˈlē-gəl \

Definition of legal 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of or relating to law She has many legal problems.

2a : deriving authority from or founded on law : de jure a legal government

b : having a formal status derived from law often without a basis in actual fact : titular a corporation is a legal but not a real person

c : established by law especially : statutory the legal test of mental capacity —K. C. Masteller

3 : conforming to or permitted by law or established rules The referee said it was a legal play. Fishing in this lake is legal.

4 : recognized or made effective by a court of law as distinguished from a court of equity

5 : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the profession of law or of one of its members a bottle … that some legal friend had sent him —J. G. Cozzens

6 : created by the constructions of the law A legal fiction is something assumed in law to be a fact regardless of the truth of that assumption.



Definition of legal (Entry 2 of 2)

: one that conforms to rules or the law

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from legal


legally \ˈlē-gə-lē \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for legal

Synonyms: Adjective

lawful, legit [slang], legitimate, licit

Antonyms: Adjective

illegal, illegitimate, illicit, lawless, unlawful, wrongful

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for legal


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 legal in a Sentence


She has a lot of legal problems. Do you know your legal rights? The amount of alcohol in his blood exceeded the legal limit. What you did was not legal. “Is it legal to fish in this river?” “Yes, it's perfectly legal.” The referee said it was a legal play.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The comments come amid intense scrutiny on Kavanaugh's body of legal decisions as a federal appeals court judge. Daniel Arkin /, NBC News, "Brett Kavanaugh addressed Roe v. Wade in speech last year," 12 July 2018 The council discussed a recent legal decision that makes Measure B (the Downtown Initiative) unenforceable, and then decided to drop its requirement for voter approval of large developments. Laura Groch,, "How they voted, July 8," 8 July 2018 In May, the New York Times reported on a surge of teenage Europeans who run YouTube channels that live-stream music 24 hours a day, operating in a legal gray area reminiscent of 20th-century pirate radio stations. Leor Galil, Chicago Reader, "Chicago DJ and producer Fess Grandiose shows why he’s a beat-scene leader with Front Room Methodology," 12 July 2018 New startups also should require legal permission, which can cap the number of vehicles in operation, and be subject to fines or expulsion if rules or regulations are flagrantly or repeatedly violated. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "How cities should regulate the scooter surge," 11 July 2018 But his supporters have cited his experience and wide range of legal opinions. Zeke Miller, The Seattle Times, "Trump picks Kavanaugh for court, setting up fight with Dems," 10 July 2018 Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety lead, wrote in a post. Lukas Mikelionis, Fox News, "Twitter purge means fewer followers for Trump, Obama, Justin Bieber," 13 July 2018 Harford County government suffered another legal setback Wednesday in its battle to overturn a $45.4 million judgment against the county in the Gravel Hill rubble landfill lawsuit. Allan Vought, The Aegis, "Judge turns down Harford's request to waive bond in $45 million rubblefill judgment appeal," 12 July 2018 Schar School poll found 81 percent of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — saying that all undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background check should be given legal status. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Abolishing ICE Is About As Popular As Trump’s Immigration Agenda," 11 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

American Media agreed to give Ms. McDougal back the rights to her story as part of an April legal settlement, but the company insisted that the Men’s Journal cover go forward as planned. WSJ, "Ex-Playmate Alleging Trump Affair to Get Men’s Journal Cover," 27 June 2018 With recreational or medical marijuana legal in 29 states and the nation’s capital, the pot industry employed 121,000 people in the U.S. last year. David Goldstein And Anita Chabria, sacbee, "Pot businesses are on a hiring spree. Here’s how much the jobs pay," 8 June 2018 An extravagant legal row this week suggests there may be little time left for complacency. The Economist, "Donald Trump’s powers are not quite as vast as his lawyers claim," 7 June 2018 Barrett has asked Columbia to refund her spring term rent and tuition, and originally turned to Equip for Equality, a disability legal and advocacy organization, for help. Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader, "How many emotional support animals is too many?," 8 Apr. 2018 The number of people facing federal drug charges for marijuana violations in the 29 states that have made medical marijuana legal is not thought to be large. Joel Rubin,, "The feds seized guns, gold and 320 pot plants. So why did a judge rule they can't pursue marijuana charges?," 14 Aug. 2017 The suit was filed Friday (May 19) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and seeks legals costs and unspecified damages. Marc Schneider, Billboard, "PayPal Sues Pandora Over 'Patently Unlawful' Logo," 22 May 2017 The state of Ohio, which made medical marijuana legal last September, is in the process of setting guidelines for the issuance of licenses for cultivation, processing and dispensing. Jeff Piorkowski/special To,, "University Heights Council learns more about medical marijuana; Swenson's Drive-in to present before Planning Commission," 16 May 2017

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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1923, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for legal


Anglo-French, from Latin legalis, from leg-, lex law


see legal entry 1


Latin legalis, from leg- lex law

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about legal

Statistics for legal

Last Updated

20 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for legal

The first known use of legal was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for legal



English Language Learners Definition of legal

: of or relating to the law

: based on the law

: allowed by the law or by the rules in a game


le·gal | \ ˈlē-gəl \

Kids Definition of legal

1 : of or relating to law or lawyers legal books

2 : based on law a legal right

3 : allowed by law or rules legal conduct a legal play in a game

Other words from legal

legally adverb


le·gal | \ ˈlē-gəl \

Legal Definition of legal 

1 : of or relating to law or the processes of law a legal question take legal action

2a : deriving authority from or founded on law a legal tariff rate a legal government

b : fulfilling the requirements of law a legal voter

c : having a status derived from law : recognized as such by law a legal certainty

d : created by operation of especially statutory law legal incompetence a legal presumption — compare conventional sense 1, judicial sense 2

e : established by law the legal test for mental capacity

3 : conforming to or permitted by law : lawful a referendum to make gambling legal

4 : recognized or made effective under principles of law as distinguished from principles of equity : deriving from or existing or valid in law as distinguished from equity — see also equity — compare equitable

5a : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the profession of law or one of its members a corporate legal department the legal community

b : of or relating to the study of law continuing legal education

Other words from legal

legally adverb

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on legal

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


an open space surrounded by woods

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Food Quiz

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!