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mor·​al ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio)
: of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical
moral judgments
: expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
a moral poem
: conforming to a standard of right behavior
took a moral position on the issue though it cost him the nomination
: sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment
a moral obligation
: capable of right and wrong action
a moral agent
: probable though not proved : virtual
a moral certainty
: perceptual or psychological rather than tangible or practical in nature or effect
a moral victory
moral support
ˈmȯr-ə-lē How to pronounce moral (audio)


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mor·​al ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio)
sense 3 is
mə-ˈral How to pronounce moral (audio)
: the moral significance or practical lesson (as of a story)
The moral of the story is to be satisfied with what you have.
: a passage pointing out usually in conclusion the lesson to be drawn from a story
morals plural
: 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 societyWalter Lippmann
: ethics
the science of morals endeavors to divide men into the good and the badJ. W. Krutch
: morale
The casualties did not shake the moral of the soldiers.

Did you know?

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

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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
There should be no moral squishiness about any of this. Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker, 28 Nov. 2023 Leaders who demonstrate ethical behavior and base decisions on strong moral values set an example for their teams. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, Forbes, 28 Nov. 2023 The version of communism that would ultimately come to dominate would rely more on economic science than moral arguments for egalitarianism made by thinkers like Cabet. John Last, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 Nov. 2023 Giving unapproved therapies to terminally-ill patients was an idea fraught with moral pitfalls. Lee Cowan, CBS News, 26 Nov. 2023 The United Nations is suffering from acute moral failure and can’t fulfill its core mission. Eli Cohen, WSJ, 26 Nov. 2023 Here is a war with a clear front line with a clear moral imperative. David Marchese David Marchese Photograph By Mamadi Doumbouya, New York Times, 22 Nov. 2023 Along with the usual tension of the ticking clock, the tough task, the difficult decision — all very effective — participants are made uncomfortable on a moral level; one might be called upon to choose between acting nobly and metaphorically assassinating a competitor, in front of the crowd. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 22 Nov. 2023 The stakes of the modern moon race are different from the Cold War contest between the Soviet Union and the United States, where the goal of the sprint to plant a flag in lunar soil was to claim moral and technological dominance for a political system. Christian Davenport, Washington Post, 13 Nov. 2023
Delicate line drawings and spare language do the heavy lifting in this tale, whose moral (and its ending) has been dissected, debated and satirized in everything from The New Yorker to The Michigan Law Review. Roxana Popescu, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Nov. 2023 In France, people still feel a sense of pride in being French, and that sense of pride is separate from the country’s morals. Billboard Japan, Billboard, 26 Oct. 2023 But Randolph, a conservative man in manners and morals, knew Rustin’s value and stood by him. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2023 The movie follows the basic beats of Ellis’ tweets (man sees ghost, man investigates ghost, man tries to get rid of ghost), ending in a paint-by-numbers showdown, with a weirdly earnest anti-bullying moral. Kate Knibbs, WIRED, 13 Oct. 2023 That play was called Abraham, and here, millennia later, Perkins’s sweet, enthusiastic, and—yes, despite his musty morals—heroic hermit is still the soul of the story. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 22 Sep. 2023 By being applied universally, that rule was meant to avoid hurt feelings — the kind that inevitably follow when one husband is accused of bad manners or bad morals. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 19 Oct. 2023 Sponsor deals between companies like Dunkin and stars like Charli D’Amelio often include a morals clause that allows for immediate termination if the star speaks against the brand. Byalexandra Sternlicht, Fortune, 4 Oct. 2023 What were some of their perspectives regarding suicide and the complicated morals around that? Ariel Shapiro, The Verge, 3 Oct. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Adjective and Noun

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

First Known Use


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


circa 1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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

Dictionary Entries Near moral

Cite this Entry

“Moral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
mor·​al ˈmȯr-əl How to pronounce moral (audio)
: of or relating to the judgment of right and wrong in human behavior : ethical
: expressing or teaching an idea of right behavior
a moral poem
: agreeing with a standard of right behavior : good
moral conduct
: able to choose between right and wrong
: likely but not proved : virtual
a moral certainty
morally adverb


2 of 2 noun
: the lesson to be learned from a story or an experience
plural : moral conduct
a high standard of morals
plural : moral teachings or rules

More from Merriam-Webster on moral

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