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

Essential Meaning of moral

1 : concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior The church takes a strong stand on a number of moral [=ethical] issues. The author avoids making moral judgments. See More Examplesmoral arguments Each story teaches an important moral lesson.Hide
2 : based on what you think is right and good He felt that he had a moral obligation/responsibility/duty to help the poor. He's a man with strong moral convictions. [=a man who believes strongly that some things are right and others are wrong] We're confident she has the moral fiber/fortitude to make the right decision.
3 : considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior moral conduct Their behavior was not moral. a moral young man [=a young man who tries to behave in a moral way]

Full 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.

Other Words from moral


morally \ ˈmȯr-​ə-​lē How to pronounce moral (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 Leaders condition reopening girls education, for example, to unclear economic and moral conditions. Atal Ahmadzai, The Conversation, 18 Jan. 2022 The media has no legal or moral basis to do otherwise. Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, WSJ, 5 Jan. 2022 Some confronted them angrily, taking issue on religious or moral grounds, and then stopped talking to them. Matt Didisheim, The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 Dec. 2021 Monetary compensation to victims of the zero-tolerance policy once seemed like a straightforward decision, in both political and moral terms. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 22 Dec. 2021 That fact raises many broader social and moral implications. Washington Post, 16 Dec. 2021 These organizations spent more than $100 million on corporate lawyers to evade their legal and moral responsibility. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 13 Dec. 2021 These organizations spent more than $100 million on corporate lawyers to evade their legal and moral responsibility. Jean Casarez And Eric Levenson, CNN, 13 Dec. 2021 Despite what Democrats want to believe, then, policies like daycare subsidies and universal pre-k aren't concrete benefits that can be clearly distinguished from social and moral disagreements. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 10 Dec. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The convicts and the guards gather to watch a Mickey Mouse cartoon projected on a bedsheet, Sullivan learns his lesson and Sturges delivers his moral. New York Times, 13 May 2021 Mechem says the moral is an important one at this time of year. Washington Post, 5 Jan. 2022 This is far from an acceptable Fabian moral, where the laws of history would produce a more egalitarian society. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 15 Nov. 2021 As a moral to the story, this comes as a head-scratcher. Kyle Smith, National Review, 14 Oct. 2021 The moral of the story is the Colts need to ride their two uber-talented backs as much as possible. Joel A. Erickson, The Indianapolis Star, 2 Oct. 2021 So, the moral of the story is to simply make sure to open your new business near the equator so that there’s permanently sunny weather and all your customers will have the best experience possible. Heikki Väänänen, Forbes, 1 Oct. 2021 The moral of this story is that physicists were able to imagine something new in the universe at large and search for it in the sky by following insights gained from laboratory experiments on Earth. Avi Loeb, Scientific American, 26 Sep. 2021 Uber’s current priciness as being a narrative with a moral that doesn’t condemn price-gouging start-ups, but rather singles out young, oblivious people as being naive about the price of their standard of living. Whizy Kim,, 7 July 2021

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

Learn More About moral

Time Traveler for moral

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near moral



moral ambiguity

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Statistics for moral

Last Updated

26 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Moral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for moral


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

More from Merriam-Webster on moral

Nglish: Translation of moral for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of moral for Arabic Speakers


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