li·​cen·​tious | \ lī-ˈsen(t)-shəs How to pronounce licentious (audio) \

Definition of licentious

1 : lacking legal or moral restraints especially : disregarding sexual restraints licentious behavior licentious revelers
2 : marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from licentious

licentiously adverb
licentiousness noun

The Shared Roots of License and Licentious

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").

Examples of licentious in a Sentence

a moralist who decried what she regarded as the licentious and corrupt culture of the entertainment industry

Recent Examples on the Web

And in 2004, most 20-year-old women did not want to be Mirandas (smart, cynical, ambitious, abrasive) or Charlottes (ditzy, sweet, old-fashioned, pretty) or even Samanthas (licentious, power hungry, slightly narcissistic). Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "Confessions of a Recovering Wannabe Carrie Bradshaw," 5 June 2018 There are a few excellent prints here of Mr. Araki’s densely colored floral photographs — which, in contrast to Robert Mapplethorpe’s elegant still lifes of tulips and calla lilies, take a licentious up-close view of pistils and stamens. Jason Farago, New York Times, "A Maverick of Japanese Photography, Bound Tight to Ritual," 28 Feb. 2018 Its Roman successor, the Saturnalia, combined licentious behavior with mistletoe. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, "The Ancient Magic of Mistletoe," 19 Dec. 2017 The gangster of the ’30s belonged to an era of licentious chaos. George Wead, Slate Magazine, "Filmnoia, or How Fear Permeated Cinema," 1 Sep. 2017 The other was the notion of female willfulness: The idea of females choosing mates on the basis of sensory information, in a licentious way, was very threatening! Michael Forsberg, National Geographic, "Why It Matters Who Females Choose to Have Sex With," 18 June 2017 CPAC never should have invited him to give a major speech, because his ‘provocativeness’ is often bigoted or licentious. Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, "How Alt-Right “Fellow-Traveller” Milo Yiannopoulos Cracked Up the Right," 21 Feb. 2017 Democracy has unleashed a Philippine press so varied and licentious as to make even Americans feel nervous—or rather, to recall standing in grocery check-out lines looking at Midnight and Star. James Fallows, The Atlantic, "A Damaged Culture," 24 Oct. 2016 Hillary is in an awkward spot on the subject of licentious behavior by men. Maureen Dowd, New York Times, "Michelle Schools Donald Trump," 15 Oct. 2016

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

1535, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for licentious

Latin licentiosus, from licentia

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about licentious

Statistics for licentious

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for licentious

The first known use of licentious was in 1535

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for licentious



English Language Learners Definition of licentious

formal : sexually immoral or offensive


li·​cen·​tious | \ lī-ˈsen-chəs How to pronounce licentious (audio) \

Legal Definition of licentious

: disregarding legal restraints especially with regard to sexual relations arrested as a prostitute for licentious sexual intercourse

Other Words from licentious

licentiously adverb
licentiousness noun

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on licentious

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


something desired as essential

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

What's that Smell?! Quiz

  • wide eyed dog smelling rose
  • Someone who is hircine smells like a:
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!