le·​nient | \ˈlē-nē-ənt, -nyənt\

Definition of lenient 

1 : of mild and tolerant disposition or effect : not harsh, severe, or strict lenient laws a lenient attitude

2 : exerting a soothing or easing influence : relieving pain or stress

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from lenient

leniently adverb

Did You Know?

Lenient is a word with a soothing history. It derives from the Latin verb lenire, meaning "to soothe" or "to soften" (itself from lenis, meaning "soft or mild"). The first, now archaic, sense of lenient referred to something soothing that relieved pain and stress. That meaning was shared by lenitive, an earlier derivative of lenire that was commonly used with electuary (a "lenitive electuary" being a medicated paste prepared with honey or another sweet and used by veterinarians to alleviate pain in the mouth). Linguists also borrowed lenis to describe speech sounds that are softened—for instance, the "t" sound in gutter is lenis. By way of comparison, the "t" sound in toe is fortis.

Examples of lenient in a Sentence

By giving one more person—the executive—the power to reduce (but not to increase) punishments, our constitutions (both Federal and state) seem to be sending an important message: that in a world in which errors are inevitable, it is better to err on the side of overly lenient, rather than overly harsh, punishment. — Alan M. Dershowitz, New York Times Book Review, 16 July 1989 He could trust himself, he said … to be more lenient than perhaps his father had been to himself; his danger, he said … would be rather in the direction of being too indulgent … — Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, 1903 But in other points, as well as this, I was growing very lenient to my master: I was forgetting all his faults, for which I had once kept a sharp look-out. — Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847 a teacher who is lenient with students who have misbehaved Many people felt that the punishment was too lenient.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Tomoyuki Sugimoto had been in North Korean custody for an investigation into the unspecified crime, but the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday the country decided to be lenient and expel him for humanitarian reasons. Fox News, "Japanese man on way home after release from NKorean custody," 28 Aug. 2018 West Virginia is more lenient in targeting inactive voters than Ohio. Washington Post, "Supreme Court’s voter roll decision may have limited impact," 12 June 2018 Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images Starting June 30, the Transportation Security Administration will be far less lenient about powder in carry-on luggage. Brittany Shoot, Fortune, "Flying Soon? TSA to Begin More Aggressively Screening Powder in Carry-On Luggage," 30 June 2017 The agency has sometimes been lenient on popular issues where valuation is difficult, such as the taxability of frequent-flier miles. Laura Saunders, WSJ, "Forget the Playoff, College Football’s Burning Question Is About Taxes," 16 Nov. 2018 Most German voters now think the government was too lenient on Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. Wolfgang Kerler, The Verge, "You thought Dieselgate was over? It’s not.," 18 Sep. 2018 The original judge who presided over that event, Aaron Persky, has since been recalled for what critics said was a lenient sentence of six months in county jail—of which Turner served three—and three years probation. Bridget Read, Vogue, "Brock Turner Loses His Appeal for a New Trial," 9 Aug. 2018 These judges are always really lenient on discovery. Fox News, "Mainstream media hysterics over Helsinki meeting," 18 July 2018 Ram Nivas, a member of the sect told NDTV that the court had been too lenient with Khan’s co-stars who were also in the car with him when the incident happened. Vidhi Doshi, Washington Post, "Reformed Bollywood bad boy Salman Khan sentenced to 5 years prison for poaching antelope," 5 Apr. 2018

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

1652, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for lenient

Latin lenient-, leniens, present participle of lenire to soften, soothe, from lenis soft, mild; probably akin to Lithuanian lėnas tranquil — more at let entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about lenient

Listen to Our Podcast about lenient

Dictionary Entries near lenient








Statistics for lenient

Last Updated

9 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for lenient

The first known use of lenient was in 1652

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for lenient



English Language Learners Definition of lenient

: allowing a lot of freedom and not punishing bad behavior in a strong way : not harsh, severe, or strict


le·​nient | \ˈlē-nē-ənt, ˈlēn-yənt\

Kids Definition of lenient

: being kind and patient : not strict a lenient teacher

Other Words from lenient

leniently adverb

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on lenient

Spanish Central: Translation of lenient

Nglish: Translation of lenient for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of lenient for Arabic Speakers

Comments on lenient

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


a nest or breeding place

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


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!