mor·​al | \ ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio) , ˈmär- \

Definition of moral

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical moral judgments
b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior a moral poem
c : conforming to a standard of right behavior took a moral position on the issue though it cost him the nomination
d : sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment a moral obligation
e : capable of right and wrong action a moral agent
2 : probable though not proved : virtual a moral certainty
3 : perceptual or psychological rather than tangible or practical in nature or effect a moral victory moral support


mor·​al | \ ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio) , ˈmär-; sense 3 is mə-ˈral How to pronounce moral (audio) \

Definition of moral (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : the moral significance or practical lesson (as of a story) The moral of the story is to be satisfied with what you have.
b : a passage pointing out usually in conclusion the lesson to be drawn from a story
2 morals plural
a : moral practices or teachings : modes of conduct an authoritative code of morals has force and effect when it expresses the settled customs of a stable society— Walter Lippmann
b : ethics the science of morals endeavors to divide men into the good and the bad— J. W. Krutch
3 : morale The casualties did not shake the moral of the soldiers.

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Other Words from moral


morally \ ˈmȯr-​ə-​lē How to pronounce morally (audio) , ˈmär-​ \ adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for moral


moral, ethical, virtuous, righteous, noble mean conforming to a standard of what is right and good. moral implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong. the basic moral values of a community ethical may suggest the involvement of more difficult or subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity. committed to the highest ethical principles virtuous implies moral excellence in character. not a religious person, but virtuous nevertheless righteous stresses guiltlessness or blamelessness and often suggests the sanctimonious. wished to be righteous before God and the world noble implies moral eminence and freedom from anything petty, mean, or dubious in conduct and character. had the noblest of reasons for seeking office

Ethics vs Morals: Is there a difference?

Ethics and morals are both used in the plural and are often regarded as synonyms, but there is some distinction in how they are used.

Morals often describes one's particular values concerning what is right and what is wrong:

It would go against my morals to help you cheat on the test.

He appears to view himself as a kind of culture warrior, striking out against the crumbling morals of modern society.
Jonathan Goldsbie, Now Toronto, 16 Oct. 2014

While ethics can refer broadly to moral principles, one often sees it applied to questions of correct behavior within a relatively narrow area of activity:

Our class had a debate over the ethics of genetic testing.

Anybody, it seemed, could make the music -- if they couldn't play guitar, they could push a button -- and nobody worried about the ethics of appropriating riffs.
Jennifer Foote, Newsweek, 23 July 1990

In addition, morals usually connotes an element of subjective preference, while ethics tends to suggest aspects of universal fairness and the question of whether or not an action is responsible:

Perhaps you don’t like Kim Kardashian, or her family, or her morals don’t align with yours, or you just think it’s weird that she might have had some plastic surgery, likes to apply makeup in a really complicated way and named her kid “Saint.”
Sarah Boboltz, The Huffington Post, 12 Oct. 2016

The Frenches, both professors in The Media School, focused on the ethics of making medical decisions for a child who could not express her own wishes yet…
Chris Mura, Indiana Daily Student, 18 Oct. 2016

Examples of moral in a Sentence

Adjective Nor did these lawyers and bankers walk about suffused with guilt. They had the moral equivalent of teflon on their soul. Church on Sunday, foreclose on Monday. — Norman Mailer, New York Review of Books, 27 Mar. 2002 … trip-wire sensitivity to perceived insult often leads to unjustifiable firings and other moral and legal imbroglios. — John McWhorter, New Republic, 14 Jan. 2002 The modern liberal state was premised on the notion that in the interests of political peace, government would not take sides among the differing moral claims made by religion and traditional culture. — Francis Fukuyama, Atlantic, May 1999 It was our desire for a moral world, the deep wish to assert the existence of goodness, that generated, as it continues to do, political fantasy. — Arthur Miller, Timebends, 1987 The author avoids making moral judgments. Each story teaches an important moral lesson. He felt that he had a moral obligation to help the poor. We're confident she has the moral fiber to make the right decision. Their behavior was not moral. Animals are not moral creatures and are not responsible for their actions. Noun The moral of the story is to be satisfied with what you have. The moral here is: pay attention to the warning lights in your car. Socrates was accused of corrupting the morals of the youth of Athens. The author points to recent cases of fraud as evidence of the lack of morals in the business world.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective But adaptation isn’t just a moral imperative for architects, the pair argue. David Walter, Washington Post, "As floods, fires and extreme temperatures worsen, these designers are making the case for resilient building," 14 Sep. 2020 In my opinion, your boyfriend has a moral and ethical responsibility not to put YOU at risk. Abigail Van Buren, oregonlive, "Dear Abby: Nurse boyfriend badgers man for visits during shelter-in-place orders, putting him at risk for Covid-19," 13 Aug. 2020 Pamela Hieronymi, an expert in ethics and moral responsibility at UCLA, suggests taking a note from Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Why ‘Pandemic Shaming’ Is Bad for Public Health," 29 July 2020 The main argument advanced in Resistance was that a person had not only a right but also a moral obligation to flout the authority of an unjust government. R.h. Lossin, The New York Review of Books, "The Revolutionary Thoreau," 4 Sep. 2020 But others see the emerging industry as a moral imperative, given metals’ crucial role in the renewable-energy technologies needed to curtail global warming—and the environmental and social costs often linked to existing mining practices. Daniel Ackerman, Scientific American, "Deep-Sea Mining: How to Balance Need for Metals with Ecological Impacts," 31 Aug. 2020 Supporters included conservatives who saw the state's swelling prisons as an affront to the idea of small government, civil rights activists who saw the issue as a matter of racial justice and faith leaders who saw it as a moral imperative. Maria Polletta, The Arizona Republic, "'Incredibly unusual' maneuver helped bring down ballot measure to change Arizona sentencing laws, backers say," 30 Aug. 2020 So far from being an absolute moral imperative, voting was proscribed in Italy under pain of mortal sin as recently as a century ago. Matthew Walther, TheWeek, "Catholic voters' impossible choice," 16 Aug. 2020 Along these same lines, I’ve always been drawn to the topic of the moral obligation of intervention, probably because of my own shortcoming. Denise Davidson Writer, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Neal Griffin’s ‘The Burden of Truth’ focuses on a young man accused of killing a cop," 8 Aug. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, Jefferson hoped to reconcile Christian tradition with reason by presenting Jesus of Nazareth as a great moral teacher―not a divine one. Peter Manseau, Smithsonian Magazine, "Why Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible," 8 Sep. 2020 One moral of the story, say legal scholars and historians, is that new perspectives alone don’t eradicate biased behavior. Noah Robertson, The Christian Science Monitor, "Sexism isn’t a relic of the past. How men’s views are shifting.," 3 Aug. 2020 The moral of the story is do what is right for you. Steve Blank, The Denver Post, "Cocktail chattables: In 2019, the big story in real estate was low inventory, nationally as well as in Denver," 16 Jan. 2020 Over seven seasons, the show's scandalous storylines saw Pope and her team handle an array of political crises concerning the inhabitants of the White House and those on the periphery, often sacrificing their morals along the way. Ruth Kinane,, "All 7 seasons of Scandal are coming to Hulu on May 20," 7 May 2020 An epidemic is a test not just of our mettle but our morals. Jeffrey Kluger, Time, "'Is Ordering Takeout Unethical?' A Medical Ethicist Answers Some of the Most Common Moral Questions Around Coronavirus," 16 Mar. 2020 Because our morals, in-groups and nation will survive us. Dan Cable, Scientific American, "Coping with ‘Death Awareness’ in the COVID-19 Era," 13 May 2020 Moral injury happens when soldiers witness or engage in acts that transgress their own morals or beliefs. Neil Shortland, The Conversation, "Doctors are making life-and-death choices over coronavirus patients – it could have long-term consequences for them," 6 Apr. 2020 Some things shouldn’t change at all — like your morals, your values, and your general beliefs about the right way to treat people. Author: Wayne And Wanda, Anchorage Daily News, "Dating app etiquette in a time of quarantine," 5 Apr. 2020

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for moral

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin moralis, from mor-, mos custom

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Time Traveler for moral

Time Traveler

The first known use of moral was in the 14th century

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Statistics for moral

Last Updated

22 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Moral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for moral


How to pronounce moral (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of moral

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior
: based on what you think is right and good
: considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior


How to pronounce moral (audio) How to pronounce moral (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of moral (Entry 2 of 2)

: a lesson that is learned from a story or an experience
: proper ideas and beliefs about how to behave in a way that is considered right and good by most people


mor·​al | \ ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio) \

Kids Definition of moral

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : concerned with or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior moral problems a moral judgment
2 : able to teach a lesson of how people should behave a moral story
3 : good entry 1 sense 13, virtuous They lead a moral life.
4 : able to tell right from wrong Humans are moral beings.

Other Words from moral

morally adverb morally wrong behavior



Kids Definition of moral (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the lesson to be learned from a story or experience
2 morals plural : ways of behaving : moral conduct They have a high standard of morals.
3 morals plural : teachings or rules of right behavior

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