pe·​nal | \ ˈpē-nᵊl How to pronounce penal (audio) \

Definition of penal

1 : of, relating to, or involving punishment, penalties, or punitive institutions
2 : liable to punishment a penal offense
3 : used as a place of confinement and punishment a penal colony

Other Words from penal

penally \ ˈpē-​nᵊl-​ē How to pronounce penal (audio) \ adverb

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A state or country's penal code defines its crimes and describes its punishments. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many countries established penal colonies, where criminals were sent as punishment. Often these were unbearably severe; but it was to such colonies that some of Australia's and the United States' early white inhabitants came, and the convicts provided labor for the European settlement of these lands.

Examples of penal in a Sentence

Australia was once a penal colony.
Recent Examples on the Web Once Hock fell into the Nazi penal system, bureaucrats took a harder look at her record, smoothing her path into the camps. Samuel Huneke, CNN, 2 June 2022 After Conrad’s father Apollo was implicated in the Polish revolution suppressed by Russia in 1863, he and his family were exiled to the harsh climate and brutal life of Vologda, a penal town 250 miles northeast of Moscow. Jeffrey Meyers, WSJ, 27 May 2022 But penal statutes, including those that are commonly used in terrorism cases, are enforcement tools, not political labels. The Editors, National Review, 17 May 2022 Going into hiding, too, was dangerous; people believed that those who were caught would be deported immediately to penal camps. Ruth Franklin, The New York Review of Books, 11 May 2022 The family’s heritage is as diverse as the stories within the novel: Native American, European penal colonist, plantation owner, enslaved African. Samantha Laine Perfas, The Christian Science Monitor, 10 May 2022 For instance, Boris Grekov, director of Moscow’s Russian History Institute, had seen his son sentenced to penal servitude and, in terror, made wide-ranging concessions to the Stalinist line, writing books and papers to order. Richard Cohen, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 Mar. 2022 While in a penal colony in the Russian republic of Mordovia, Mr. Reed was subjected to degrading treatment, including time in a solitary cell, his family has said. New York Times, 27 Apr. 2022 One year later, Reed was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. Ivan Pereira, ABC News, 27 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of penal

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for penal

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin poenalis, from poena punishment — more at pain entry 1

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The first known use of penal was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near penal



penal code

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Last Updated

12 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Penal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for penal


pe·​nal | \ ˈpē-nᵊl How to pronounce penal (audio) \

Kids Definition of penal

: relating to or used for punishment


pe·​nal | \ ˈpēn-ᵊl How to pronounce penal (audio) \

Legal Definition of penal

1 : of, relating to, or being punishment penal sanctions
2 : making one (as an offender) punishable a penal offense also : criminal sense 2
3 : used as a place of confinement and punishment a penal institution

More from Merriam-Webster on penal

Nglish: Translation of penal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of penal for Arabic Speakers


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