neg·​li·​gence ˈne-gli-jən(t)s How to pronounce negligence (audio)
: the quality or state of being negligent
: failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances
… his naivete and negligence had been the source of his problems.Michael Leahy
: an act or instance of being negligent
regretted his past negligences

Example Sentences

The company was charged with negligence in the manufacturing of the defective tires. exhibiting his usual negligence, he failed to set the emergency brake, and the car rolled down the steep hill and crashed into the telephone pole
Recent Examples on the Web More than 225 people have died in San Diego County jails since 2006, and the Board of Supervisors has continued to approve multimillion-dollar payouts for deputies’ and other jail staff members’ negligence and misconduct. Kelly Davis, San Diego Union-Tribune, 30 Apr. 2023 There are exclusions for criminal offenses, gross negligence and willful or wanton misconduct, but those cases are rare and much more difficult to prove. Kristine Phillips, The Indianapolis Star, 25 Apr. 2023 But proving negligence is challenging because prosecutors often must show that a child’s actions were reasonably foreseeable. Ben Finley And Denise Lavoie,, 19 Apr. 2023 Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit last week accusing the school’s former assistant principal, former principal and former superintendent of gross negligence. Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2023 Officers arrested the child on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter with negligence and evading police and causing injuries. Matthias Gafni, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Apr. 2023 Federal Lawsuit: The Ohio attorney general has filed a 58-count lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, charging that the derailment was a product of the company’s negligence and recklessness. Glenn Thrush, New York Times, 31 Mar. 2023 According to People, Dillard’s mother, Alexis Adams, is named as a plaintiff in the negligence suit — along with her special needs son — in documents submitted to the Superior Court of New Jersey on Monday (March 27) against Pitch Perfect 74, LLC, Goldberg Management and others. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 30 Mar. 2023 The bill would allow damages to be assigned to the perpetrator of the crime in negligence cases, which Michaels said would let defendants who could have prevented a crime off the hook by shifting blame to the criminal. Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel, 15 Mar. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English necligence, neglicence, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin neglegentia, neclegentia, from neglegent-, neglegens, necligens negligent + -ia -ia entry 1

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near negligence

Cite this Entry

“Negligence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


neg·​li·​gence ˈneg-li-jən(t)s How to pronounce negligence (audio)
: the quality or state of being negligent
: failure to take the care that a reasonably cautious person usually takes
: an act or instance of negligence

Legal Definition


neg·​li·​gence ˈne-gli-jəns How to pronounce negligence (audio)
: failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in like circumstances in protecting others from a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm in a particular situation
also : conduct that reflects this failure

called also ordinary negligence, simple negligence

compare abuse sense 2, due care, intent

Note: Negligence may render one civilly and sometimes criminally liable for resulting injuries.

collateral negligence
: negligence on the part of an independent contractor that is not connected with a manner of working or risk ordinarily associated with particular work and for which the employer of the contractor is not liable
comparative negligence \ kəm-​ˈpar-​ə-​tiv-​ \
a : negligence of one among multiple parties involved in an injury that is measured (as in percentages) according to the degree of its contribution to the injury the comparative negligence of the plaintiff
b : a doctrine, rule, or method of apportioning liability and damages in tort law: negligence and damages are determined by reference to the proportionate fault of the plaintiff and defendant with the negligence of the plaintiff not constituting an absolute bar to recovery from the defendant compare contributory negligence in this entry

Note: The great majority of states have replaced the doctrine of contributory negligence with that of comparative negligence.

: an affirmative defense alleging comparative negligence by the plaintiff
contributory negligence
: negligence on the part of a plaintiff that contributed to the injury at issue
: a now largely abolished doctrine in tort law: negligence on the part of a plaintiff that contributed to the injury at issue will bar recovery from the defendant
also : an affirmative defense based on this doctrine
criminal negligence
: a gross deviation from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person that is manifest in a failure to protect others from a risk (as of death) deriving from one's conduct and that renders one criminally liable

called also culpable negligence

compare gross negligence in this entry
gross negligence
: negligence that is marked by conduct that presents an unreasonably high degree of risk to others and by a failure to exercise even the slightest care in protecting them from it and that is sometimes associated with conscious and willful indifference to their rights see also recklessness compare criminal negligence in this entry
negligence per se \ -​ˌpər-​ˈsā, -​ˈsē \
: negligence that consists of a violation of a statute especially designed to protect the public safety

Note: Recovery may be had on a theory of negligence per se when the harm resulting from the violation is the type that the statute is designed to prevent, the plaintiff is a member of the class of persons sought to be protected by the statute, and the violation is the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.

ordinary negligence
passive negligence
: failure to do something (as to discover a dangerous condition on one's property) that is not a breach of an affirmative duty and that in combination with another's act is a cause of injury
simple negligence
slight negligence
: failure to exercise the great degree of care typical of an extraordinarily prudent person

Note: The category of slight negligence is used much less frequently than ordinary negligence and gross negligence, the other members of a three-level classification that was formerly prevalent.

More from Merriam-Webster on negligence

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