le·​nient ˈlē-nē-ənt How to pronounce lenient (audio)
: of mild and tolerant disposition or effect : not harsh, severe, or strict
lenient laws
a lenient attitude
: exerting a soothing or easing influence : relieving pain or stress
leniently adverb

Did you know?

Lenient comes from lenis, the Latin word for "soft" or "mild." It was originally applied to something soothing that relieved pain or stress; the related lenitive has the same meaning. Linguists also borrowed lenis to describe speech sounds that are softened—for instance, the "t" sound in gutter.

Example Sentences

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.
Recent Examples on the Web How Zambia's debt is renegotiated with the Chinese — and how quickly — will provide a test case for how lenient China will be with other overextended nations that face debt distress. Fatima Hussein, ajc, 23 Jan. 2023 How Zambia’s debt is renegotiated with the Chinese – and how quickly – will provide a test case for how lenient China will be with other overextended nations that face debt distress. Fatima Hussein, The Christian Science Monitor, 23 Jan. 2023 Krivtsova’s family believes she was set up by law enforcement agents unhappy with the court’s initially lenient decision. Mary Ilyushina, Washington Post, 19 Jan. 2023 From the early days of the pandemic, Bhattacharya, a health-policy professor at Stanford, was one of the most prominent intellectuals calling for more lenient COVID restrictions in the U.S. and abroad. Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, 11 Jan. 2023 So McQueen is looking at Jamaica as a location for the first extended trips due to the country’s lenient drug laws. Justin Higginbottom, The New Republic, 3 Jan. 2023 But states with more lenient gun laws have struggled with scenarios similar to the one involving Mr. Marley. Richard Fausset, New York Times, 2 Jan. 2023 Many landlords who were lenient about payments at the height of the pandemic have stiffened, asking for back rent in addition to raising current rents. Talmon Joseph Smith, New York Times, 6 Jan. 2023 The conditions of Smollett’s probation are relatively lenient. Jason Meisner, chicagotribune.com, 17 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1652, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of lenient was in 1652


Dictionary Entries Near lenient

Cite this Entry

“Lenient.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lenient. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


le·​nient ˈlē-nē-ənt How to pronounce lenient (audio)
: being kind and patient
leniently adverb
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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