pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpe-nᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Definition of penalty

1 : the suffering in person, rights, or property that is annexed by law or judicial decision to the commission of a crime or public offense trespassing forbidden under penalty of imprisonment
2 : the suffering or the sum to be forfeited to which a person agrees to be subjected in case of nonfulfillment of stipulations A penalty was imposed on the contractor for breach of contract.
3a : disadvantage, loss, or hardship due to some action Loss of privacy is one of the penalties you pay for fame.
b : a disadvantage (such as loss of yardage, time, or possession of the ball or an addition to or subtraction from the score) imposed on a team or competitor for violation of the rules of a sport The team was given a penalty for the foul.
4 : points scored in bridge by the side that defeats the opposing contract usually used in plural

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from penalty

penalty adjective

Examples of penalty in a Sentence

The company was given a severe penalty for the violation. They allowed him to pay back the money without a penalty. They allowed him to pay back the money without penalty. Lack of privacy is one of the penalties you pay for fame. The hockey player was given a penalty for holding.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Sadio Mane scored again in extra time but a Jorginho penalty cancelled that out., "Jurgen Klopp Reveals What Frank Lampard Said to Him Before Extra Time in Super Cup Final," 15 Aug. 2019 The statute establishes a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation. Jack Greiner,, "Strictly Legal: Is a tofu burger a burger? Arkansas says no.," 15 Aug. 2019 The defender was one of two Pride players to earn a red card, leaving the game for a last defender penalty in the 61st minute. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "Orlando Pride defender Julie King grateful for second chance in NWSL," 14 Aug. 2019 Justin Skule and Willie Beavers were second-team tackles, and Skule got called for a false-start penalty in the red zone. Cam Inman, The Mercury News, "49ers camp: Beathard thumb injury again could clear up QB race," 13 Aug. 2019 With New York threatening to equalize in the second half, Alex Davey committed a foul in the box and the referee decided to show him a straight red card as well as award a penalty. Jonah Dylan,, "Hartford Athletic marred by two red cards on one play in ugly 5-1 loss to New York Red Bulls II," 10 Aug. 2019 At least Holmes and Mata’afa both had sacks of former Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, although Mata’afa also had a roughing-the-passer penalty against Bridgewater. Chris Tomasson, Twin Cities, "Vikings’ Olabisi Johnson scores TD, has a cheering section in preseason debut," 10 Aug. 2019 He was called for a holding penalty and also lost a fumble that wide receiver Marvin Hall recovered. Brad Biggs,, "Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the Bears’ 23-13 loss in the preseason opener to the Panthers," 8 Aug. 2019 Failure to register and violating the cooling off restriction are both considered Level 6 felonies and carry a penalty of six months to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Tony Cook, Indianapolis Star, "Former lawmaker catches heat for secretive deal with Indiana veterans agency," 7 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penalty.' 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 penalty

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for penalty

Middle English penalte, from Middle French penalité, from Medieval Latin poenalitas, from Latin poenalis

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about penalty

Statistics for penalty

Last Updated

18 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for penalty

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for penalty



English Language Learners Definition of penalty

: punishment for breaking a rule or law
: a disadvantage or difficulty you experience
: a punishment or disadvantage given to a team or player for breaking a rule in a game


pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpe-nᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Kids Definition of penalty

1 : punishment for doing something wrong
2 : a disadvantage given for breaking a rule in a sport or game


pen·​al·​ty | \ ˈpen-ᵊl-tē How to pronounce penalty (audio) \
plural penalties

Legal Definition of penalty

1 : a punishment that is imposed on a wrongdoer by statute or judicial decision
2 : a pecuniary sum that by agreement is to be paid by a party who fails to fulfill an obligation to another and that is punitive rather than compensatory the court declined to enforce the contractual penalty and determined actual damages instead

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on penalty

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


to move or obtain by small maneuvers

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Summer 2019 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a-bowl-of-peach-sorbet-with-cut-peaches-next-to-it
  • Which is a synonym of desideratum?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Bee Cubed

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!