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 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 Biden hopes that pledge will help reclaim the moral high ground on the climate issue, which the U.S. all but surrendered under Donald Trump. Fortune, "The U.S. and China are climate frenemies—and maybe that’s OK," 22 Apr. 2021 For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the crisis has presented a rare opportunity to seize the moral high ground on an issue that matters to many of the voters who helped him to a landslide victory in the 2019 election. Stephen Castle, New York Times, "In Chaos of Super League Fiasco, Johnson Seizes an Opportunity to Score," 21 Apr. 2021 It was made worse when tone-deaf Astros manager Dusty Baker tried to take the moral high ground. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Tigers' AJ Hinch isn't the one to yell at over Houston Astros' sign-stealing," 12 Apr. 2021 The apostle Paul continually urged Christians to do likewise: Don't yield the moral high ground. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Care for wild places | Safe, affordable care | Deadline extension," 27 Mar. 2021 Policymakers and business leaders have a moral and economic imperative to provide more assistance. Chip Bergh For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Levi Strauss CEO: Too many companies don't have paid family leave. America can do better," 23 Mar. 2021 This the moral, and economic, question at the heart of the NCAA’s longstanding reluctance to pay student-athletes. Los Angeles Times, "Column: If Supreme Court rules against NCAA athlete compensation, the fight must not end," 20 Dec. 2020 The fall is going to feel different because more kids will be back in school, sports and activities will be taking place, but there are some very important moral, ethical, and practical questions that our society will have to tackle., "Everything you want to know about COVID-19 and kids (but were afraid to ask)," 16 Apr. 2021 If Sullivan can’t be reversed, then limiting its scope to officials, as Prof. Reynolds suggests, would significantly improve the moral and intellectual quality of political life in this country and strengthen democracy. WSJ, "Permissive Libel Law Lets Democracy Down," 13 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The moral of the story is this: Don’t let another day go by without making up. cleveland, "Dear Annie: I’m concerned about my boyfriend’s unhealthy life choices," 2 Apr. 2021 The moral of the story is this: Don’t let another day go by without making up. Annie Lane, oregonlive, "Dear Annie: Couple’s path diverges over lifestyle choices," 2 Apr. 2021 The moral here isn’t that Marcora and Gattoni shouldn’t have published their study. Alex Hutchinson, Outside Online, "A Real-World Test of Whether Fresh Minds Run Faster," 13 Mar. 2021 The moral of the story is to keep your exercise to your living room or outdoors for the time being. Sara Kiley Watson, Popular Science, "Gyms are still hot spots for spreading COVID-19," 25 Feb. 2021 The moral of her 25-year journey is relevant to her daughter, naturally, but also her two sons. Don Riddell, CNN, "Sarah Thomas: Kicked out of the men's basketball league, she set her sights on the Super Bowl," 19 Feb. 2021 The moral of Bliss is that experiencing the goodness of life, even for a moment, can show someone just how bad things have gotten. Shannon Carlin,, "Bliss Isn’t Saying What It Thinks It’s Saying," 8 Feb. 2021 All the famous incidents and players of the five families make their appearance in Sussman’s book in energetically neat outline form—each, one realizes, with a summary moral attached. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Why New York’s Mob Mythology Endures," 30 Nov. 2020 Such tact is in keeping with the moral of its story, which is that success in America means growing up to be less interesting than your parents or grandparents. New York Times, "‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review: I Remember Mamaw," 23 Nov. 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

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Moral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for moral



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



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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More from Merriam-Webster on moral

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for moral

Nglish: Translation of moral for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of moral for Arabic Speakers

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