mercy

noun

mer·​cy ˈmər-sē How to pronounce mercy (audio)
plural mercies
1
a
: compassion or forbearance (see forbearance sense 1) shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power
also : lenient or compassionate treatment
begged for mercy
b
: imprisonment rather than death imposed as penalty for first-degree murder
2
a
: a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion
May God have mercy on us.
b
: a fortunate circumstance
it was a mercy they found her before she froze
3
: compassionate treatment of those in distress
works of mercy among the poor
mercy adjective
Phrases
at the mercy of
: wholly in the power of : with no way to protect oneself against
Choose the Right Synonym for mercy

mercy, charity, clemency, grace, leniency mean a disposition to show kindness or compassion.

mercy implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it.

threw himself on the mercy of the court

charity stresses benevolence and goodwill shown in broad understanding and tolerance of others.

show a little charity for the less fortunate

clemency implies a mild or merciful disposition in one having the power or duty of punishing.

the judge refused to show clemency

grace implies a benign attitude and a willingness to grant favors or make concessions.

by the grace of God

leniency implies lack of severity in punishing.

criticized the courts for excessive leniency

Examples of mercy in a Sentence

He is a vicious criminal who deserves no mercy. She fell to her knees and asked for mercy. They came on a mission of mercy to provide food and medical care for starving children. It's a mercy that the building was empty when the fire started. Thank heaven for small mercies.
Recent Examples on the Web The boy cannot be a reminder to the locals that the cartel boss ever shows mercy. Scott Phillips, Forbes, 12 Feb. 2024 Jesus, thank You for Your mercy that was displayed upon the cross that has given those who call upon Your name and trust in you for forgiveness and new life. Jorie Nicole McDonald, Southern Living, 31 Jan. 2024 Unfortunately, Framework is sort of at AMD's mercy here. Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica, 29 Jan. 2024 The choir speaks of daily work, of dirt and gardening and patience, gravity, accountability, mercy, endurance, and the myriad little objects and gestures that fill a home and make a life. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 25 Jan. 2024 Joanne’s entrance into the story provides some mercy for Capote, who has done wrong, but has a case too. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 25 Jan. 2024 Characters whom viewers have gotten to know are killed without mercy, and deaths can be sudden and intense. Common Sense Media, Washington Post, 12 Jan. 2024 But young people today are at the mercy of soaring rental costs and heavy student debt—all while navigating a difficult job market. Orianna Rosa Royle, Fortune, 24 Jan. 2024 Days spent skiing or snowboarding find complexions at the mercy of winter’s harshest elements. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, 17 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'mercy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Anglo-French merci, from Medieval Latin merced-, merces, from Latin, price paid, wages, from merc-, merx merchandise

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of mercy was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near mercy

Cite this Entry

“Mercy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mercy. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

mercy

noun
mer·​cy ˈmər-sē How to pronounce mercy (audio)
plural mercies
1
a
: kind and gentle treatment of someone (as a wrongdoer or opponent) having no right to it
b
: a disposition to show mercy
2
a
: a blessing as an act of divine love
the mercies of God
b
: a fortunate happening
it's a mercy the weather cooled off
3
: kindness shown to victims of misfortune
works of mercy among the poor
Etymology

Middle English merci, mercy "mercy," from early French merci, mercit (same meaning), from Latin merces "price paid for something, wages, reward"

Word Origin
To the ancient Romans, the Latin word merces meant "price paid for something, wages, reward." The early Christians of Rome used the word in a slightly different way. For them it meant the spiritual reward one receives for doing a kindness in response to an unkindness. The word came into early French as mercit or merci with much the same meaning as was later passed on to our Modern English word mercy. But while mercy in English now has the meaning "kindness or pity shown to someone," the word merci in French has lost much of that meaning and is chiefly used today to mean "thank you."

More from Merriam-Webster on mercy

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