: an authoritative decree or direction : order
On that day the king signed three ordinances.
: a law set forth by a governmental authority
specifically : a municipal regulation
A city ordinance forbids construction work to start before 8 a.m.
: something ordained or decreed by fate or a deity
Let ordinance come as the gods foresay [=foretell] it.William Shakespeare
: a prescribed usage, practice, or ceremony
observes the ordinance of abstinence during Lent
Choose the Right Synonym for ordinance

law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure.

law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority.

obey the law

rule applies to more restricted or specific situations.

the rules of the game

regulation implies prescription by authority in order to control an organization or system.

regulations affecting nuclear power plants

precept commonly suggests something advisory and not obligatory communicated typically through teaching.

the precepts of effective writing

statute implies a law enacted by a legislative body.

a statute requiring the use of seat belts

ordinance applies to an order governing some detail of procedure or conduct enforced by a limited authority such as a municipality.

a city ordinance

canon suggests in nonreligious use a principle or rule of behavior or procedure commonly accepted as a valid guide.

the canons of good taste

Examples of ordinance in a Sentence

The town has passed a zoning ordinance limiting construction. a local ordinance forbids all street parking during snowstorms
Recent Examples on the Web The ordinance is part of a deal to ensure that a proposal to require hotels to take part in a homeless housing initiative does not make it onto the March 5 ballot. David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 2023 Of those, five hotels including Las Palmas have collected city funding despite seemingly violating the housing ordinance by offering rooms to tourists. Robin Urevich, ProPublica, 14 Nov. 2023 The ordinance would also create a program, which would require hotels to provide temporary lodging for unhoused families and individuals in their vacant rooms, with the costs covered by the city. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Nov. 2023 The aftermath Photos show members of the Palestinian police explosives ordinance disposal unit examining a crater caused by the blast that night. Imogen Piper, Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2023 City board members approved an accompanying emergency clause so the ordinance would take effect immediately. Joseph Flaherty, Arkansas Online, 3 Oct. 2023 Seven months later, the City Council expanded on that effort, approving an ordinance that ensured that any affordable unit — including those found in mixed-income projects — would not be counted toward the 50-unit threshold. David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times, 11 Nov. 2023 Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, who signed off, said in a statement on Facebook that the ordinance was put in place more than three years ago when similar events held in pastures started becoming an issue. Natalie Kainz, NBC News, 6 Nov. 2023 The central committee of the county Democratic Party unanimously approved a resolution last month condemning the event, requesting an animal torture ordinance and urging Mayor Todd Gloria to deny the event a permit. David Garrick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ordinance.' 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, from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French ordenance order, disposition, from Medieval Latin ordinantia, from Latin ordinant-, ordinans, present participle of ordinare to put in order — more at ordain

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near ordinance

Cite this Entry

“Ordinance.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ordinance. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


or·​di·​nance ˈȯrd-nən(t)s How to pronounce ordinance (audio)
: a law or regulation especially of a city or town

Legal Definition


or·​di·​nance ˈȯrd-ᵊn-əns How to pronounce ordinance (audio)
: an authoritative decree or law
especially : a municipal regulation
a zoning ordinance

More from Merriam-Webster on ordinance

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