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

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Other Words from penal

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

Did You Know?

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

Sydney, Australia Sydney has come a long way since its days as a British penal colony. Teen Vogue, "10 Best Places To Study Abroad: Our Favorite Study-Abroad Cities," 25 Mar. 2019 Before hitting the mainland near Isla del Bosque with 120 mph (195 kph) winds Tuesday night, Willa swept over an offshore penal colony about 60 miles (100 kilometers) out in the Pacific. Marco Ugarte, The Seattle Times, "Hurricane Willa moves inland after hitting Mexico coast," 23 Oct. 2018 While unlikely to ever be enforced, the specter of six-month jail sentences cast a spotlight on Santa Barbara’s penal system. Chris Irvine, Fox News, "Santa Barbara backpedals on jail time for plastic straw offenders," 27 July 2018 The course features narrow fairways and penal rough, as well as green complexes that are guarded by bunkers aplenty and dense rough. Daniel Rapaport,, "Quicken Loans National Preview: History, Field, Odds, Predictions," 27 June 2018 The new version removes the penal provisions and is likely to allow Poland to repair its international standing and relationship with its allies. Washington Post, "Polish government backs away from disputed Holocaust law," 27 June 2018 When the World Cup started in Russia on Thursday, Oleg Sentsov was on day 32 of his hunger strike in a northern Siberian penal colony. Sabra Ayres,, "Ukrainian film director on hunger strike in a Russian prison casts dark cloud over World Cup," 19 June 2018 Is the answer to quarantine him in a penal colony …? Vahe Gregorian, kansascity, "The Royals are considering trying to sign Luke Heimlich. Here's why they shouldn't," 25 June 2018 Williams returns to his old community, which is shadowed by a fortress-like jail on a hill, to learn about how the penal system oppresses African-Americans and the poor. Peter Keough,, "Doc Talk: Prison reform, computer games, gay marriage, silent Super 8," 21 June 2018

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for penal

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

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English Language Learners Definition of penal

: relating to or used for punishment
British : very severe


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

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More from Merriam-Webster on penal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with penal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for penal

Spanish Central: Translation of penal

Nglish: Translation of penal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of penal for Arabic Speakers

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