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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Jared Ordonez, 25, of Metairie, was booked on charges of malfeasance in office, conspiracy to introduce contraband into a penal facility and child desertion, said Capt. Michelle Hunter,, "JPSO guard arrested, accused in scheme to smuggle phone into jail," 27 June 2019 Russell Goldsmith, 64, of Westfield pleaded no contest to abuse of a penal facility resident and misconduct in public office, both felonies. Jesse Garza, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Death of inmate at Columbia Correctional is under investigation," 10 Dec. 2019 Upon completion of the investigation, the Pueblo Diocese requested that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith begin a penal process, which is pending. Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post, "Colorado Catholic Church sexual abuse: Who are the 40 priests named in the report?," 23 Oct. 2019 The return address was IK-11, a penal colony in the Russian town of Bor that is said to be reserved for former law enforcement and intelligence officers convicted of serious crimes. New York Times, "Germany Says Russia Is Suspected in Berlin Assassination," 4 Dec. 2019 Naama Issachar, a dual U.S.-Israeli national, got what many believe to be a sentencing wildly disproportionate to the crime: seven and a half years in a Russian penal colony. NBC News, "Suspected hacker's extradition focuses attention on Israeli-American in Russian jail," 11 Nov. 2019 Get our daily newsletter Also released was Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker who had been serving a 20-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony. The Economist, "Ukraine and Russia exchange prisoners in a modest step towards peace," 7 Sep. 2019 The story is anchored in the history of the penal colonies established by Britain in Australia between 1788 and 1868. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale Delves Into a Harrowing Past," 4 Aug. 2019 But the prosecution is not seeking any penal sentence against the doctor and does not question her good faith. Washington Post, "Landmark euthanasia trial opens in the Netherlands," 26 Aug. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about penal

Time Traveler for penal

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for penal

Last Updated

14 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Penal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for penal


How to pronounce penal (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on penal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for penal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with penal

Spanish Central: Translation of penal

Nglish: Translation of penal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of penal for Arabic Speakers

Comments on penal

What made you want to look up penal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!