mis·​de·​mean·​or | \-di-ˈmē-nər \

Definition of misdemeanor 

1 : a crime less serious than a felony (see felony sense 2) defacing school property is a misdemeanor— Jessica Portner

2 : misdeed Student misdemeanors will not go unpunished.

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What is meant by 'crimes and misdemeanors'?

Misdemeanor comes from demeanor, which means “behavior toward others” or “outward manner” (as in “his quiet demeanor”), itself derived from the verb demean, which means “to conduct or behave (oneself) usually in a proper manner”—not to be confused with the other and much more common verb demean that means “to lower in character, status, or reputation” (as in “I won’t demean myself by working for so little money”). These two verbs are spelled the same way but come from different roots.

Therefore, misdemeanor literally means “bad behavior toward others.” This led to parallel usage as both general bad behavior and legal bad behavior. In American law, a misdemeanor is “a crime less serious than a felony.” A felony is defined as “a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than a year.” As misdemeanor became more specific, crime became the more general term for any legal offense.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” found in Article Two, Section 4 of the Constitution, has been used in English law since the 14th century, as have other fixed phrases using synonymous terms, such as “rules and regulations” and “emoluments and salaries.” It can be very difficult to distinguish between any of these pairs of words, and their frequent use together renders them less technical in today’s highly specific legal vocabulary. “High crimes” are serious crimes committed by those with some office or rank, and was used in the language describing impeachment proceedings of members of the British Parliament in the 18th century.

Examples of misdemeanor in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Each of the misdemeanor counts carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison. Zolan Kanno- Youngs, WSJ, "Bronx Man Arrested in Vandalism of African Burial Ground Monument in New York City," 20 Nov. 2018 If convicted of two felony and two misdemeanor counts of lying to a peace officer, the 71-year-old Simon faces up to four years in prison. David Eggert, The Seattle Times, "Ex-MSU president charged with lying to police about Nassar," 20 Nov. 2018 Seattle police forwarded it this month to the city attorney’s office for a possible misdemeanor charge. Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times, "Metro says fatal Westlake Avenue bus-pedestrian crash was preventable, agrees to $7.7M settlement," 26 Oct. 2018 Manasra’s plea agreement included pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and two days of imprisonment, a $500 fine, plus a year’s supervised release. Alexandra Mondalek, Vox, "Fake turquoise jewelry is hurting Native Americans economically," 24 Oct. 2018 In Georgia, criminal trespass is a misdemeanor offense. Fox News, "Video from 2011 creates headaches for Sinema," 12 Oct. 2018 In the days before the executive order, Mexicans made up 34 percent of those charged with the misdemeanor offense. Brad Heath, azcentral, "Mexicans a bigger share of border prosecutions since Trump ended family separations," 10 July 2018 The 15-year-old was also charged with obstructing police for running from them while trying to resist arrest, a misdemeanor charge, police said. Megan Jones, Aurora Beacon-News, "Aurora teens charged with breaking into vehicles at Fox Valley Mall," 10 July 2018 Glascock faces an additional misdemeanor charge of domestic battery. Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, "Court records: Mother, partner used marijuana as incentive for son's behavior," 6 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'misdemeanor.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of misdemeanor

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

6 Dec 2018

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The first known use of misdemeanor was in the 15th century

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English Language Learners Definition of misdemeanor

law : a crime that is not very serious : a crime that is less serious than a felony


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər \

Kids Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony

2 : misdeed


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər \

Legal Definition of misdemeanor 

: a crime that carries a less severe punishment than a felony specifically : a crime punishable by a fine and by a term of imprisonment not to be served in a penitentiary and not to exceed one year — compare felony

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More from Merriam-Webster on misdemeanor

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with misdemeanor

Spanish Central: Translation of misdemeanor

Nglish: Translation of misdemeanor for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of misdemeanor for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about misdemeanor

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to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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