License and licentious come ultimately from the same word in Latin, licentia, whose meanings ranged from "freedom to act" to "unruly behavior, wantonness." The Latin noun was itself derived from the verb licere "to be permitted." Though we are likely to associate license with the card that grants freedom or permission to operate a motor vehicle and licentious with sexual wantonness, in actuality, there is considerable semantic overlap between the two words. Poetic license refers to deviation from a (usually) literary norm for some purposeful effect. A person who takes license with something (or someone) engages in "abusive disregard for rules of personal conduct." Hence, the semantic range of license in English mirrors that of its Latin antecedent, suggesting either permission or transgression, depending upon the context. Licentious, on the other hand, always implies excessive, transgressive freedom, as is true of its immediate Latin source, licentiosus "unrestrained, wanton" (literally, "full of freedom").
freedom has a broad range of application from total absence of restraint to merely a sense of not being unduly hampered or frustrated.
freedom of the press
liberty suggests release from former restraint or compulsion.
the released prisoner had difficulty adjusting to his new liberty
license implies freedom specially granted or conceded and may connote an abuse of freedom.
freedom without responsibility may degenerate into license
Examples of license in a Sentence
The restaurant's owner applied for a license to sell liquor.
His job as a reporter gives him license to go anywhere and ask anything. Verb
The restaurant has now been licensed to sell liquor.
a new drug licensed by the government
The company licensed its name to others.
Recent Examples on the Web
In July, Wood decided to give up his law license rather than face disciplinary proceedings that would have likely resulted in his disbarment.—Tori Otten, The New Republic, 20 Sep. 2023 Jefferson, 46, lost her medical license later in 2016 and in 2017 was charged with injuring a child by omission, causing serious bodily injury.—Kyle Melnick, Washington Post, 19 Sep. 2023 Giuliani sued by ex-lawyer over nonpayment of fees NEW YORK — Rudy Giuliani, already under criminal indictment and at risk of losing his law license for his effort to keep Donald Trump in office after the 2020 election, is being sued by his own lawyer.—Marianna Sotomayor, BostonGlobe.com, 19 Sep. 2023 Siegelman served six years in federal prison for a bribery conviction before being released and getting his law license back.—Carol Robinson | Crobinson@al.com, al, 19 Sep. 2023 Texas has the most hunting license holders this year of any state with 1.17 million.—Maria Halkias, Dallas News, 18 Sep. 2023 This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.—Leland Lazarus, Fortune, 18 Sep. 2023 According to a police report obtained by the Tribune, the man who shot and killed Joseph has a license to own and conceal his possession of firearms.—Nell Salzman, Chicago Tribune, 17 Sep. 2023 The woman refused to take a breath test and had her license suspended.—cleveland, 11 Sep. 2023
Most of that comes from content licensed from other platforms.—Gene Maddaus, Variety, 21 Sep. 2023 Under the previous guidance, firms licensed by DFS through its virtual currency program could gain approval to custody and list tokens by a self-certification system that helped streamline the process but still granted the department a supervisory role, as the firms still had to inform DFS.—Byleo Schwartz, Fortune Crypto, 18 Sep. 2023 Nepal laid the foundations for its cannabis tourism industry in 1961, taxing and licensing drug sales from Kathmandu stores that became the talk of the hippie trail.—Cheri Lucas Rowlands, Longreads, 18 Sep. 2023 Telehealth providers are licensed online medical providers that have the ability to administer prescriptions digitally.—Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 15 Sep. 2023 At the time, however, Crabtree-Ireland also said that members cannot enter into any new music licensing agreements or approve any new tracks for film or TV projects and must cease promoting songs already licensed for the duration of the strike.—Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 15 Sep. 2023 The Org’s bureaucracy has metastasized to the point where the Department of Mutant Vehicles, which was started as a jokey agency to license art cars, has gotten as frustrating as the real DMV.—Alden Wicker, WIRED, 7 Sep. 2023 Police and licensed security guards are exempt from the temporary ban.—Morgan Lee, USA TODAY, 10 Sep. 2023 Those parts must now be licensed and include serial numbers, and manufacturers are required to run background checks before a sale.—Lyndsay Winkley, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10 Sep. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'license.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Noun and Verb
Middle English, from Anglo-French licence, from Latin licentia, from licent-, licens, present participle of licēre to be permitted
: a permission granted by competent authority to engage in a business or occupation or in an activity otherwise unlawful
a license to practice medicine
or chiefly British licence
licensed or chiefly British licenced; licensing or chiefly British licencing
1 of 2noun
: a right or permission granted by a competent authority (as of a government or a business) to engage in some business or occupation, do some act, or engage in some transaction which would be unlawful without such right or permission
also: a document, plate, or tag evidencing a license granted
: revocable authority or permission given solely to one having no possessory rights in a tract of land to do something on that land which would otherwise be unlawful or a trespass compare easement, lease
: a grant by the holder of a copyright or patent to another of any of the rights embodied in the copyright or patent short of an assignment of all rights
: a defense (as to trespass) that one's act was in accordance with a license granted
: freedom that allows or is used with irresponsibility