pen·​al·​ty | \ˈpe-nᵊl-tē \
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

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Other Words from penalty

penalty adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for penalty


despite, detriment, disadvantage, disfavor


advantage, favor

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

If true, the penalty could be in the billions of dollars. Kevin Dupzyk, Popular Mechanics, "Charred and Burned: The School That Turns Firefighters Into Fire Detectives," 4 Oct. 2018 The penalty for a driver’s first violation is $50 and one point on their license. Tyler Estep, ajc, "State reminds distracted driving violators: Warnings won’t last forever," 11 July 2018 The penalty for posting is $300 per sign for the first offense and up to $2,000 per sign for the second offense but catching the perpetrators can be tricky since many posters use Google voice numbers and burner phones. Julia Terruso,, "Philly residents tear down 8,000 illegal 'bandit signs.' Get paid.," 11 July 2018 The penalty was too much to make up, but the class left a lasting impression. Fletcher Page, The Courier-Journal, "Victory at Kentucky Speedway would be 'biggest win ever' for Ben Rhodes," 9 July 2018 The penalties for criminal violations of HIPAA are substantial — generally a fine of up to $50,000 and up to one year in prison. Anne M. Murphy, Laura B. Angelini, STAT, "Criminal prosecution for violating HIPAA: an emerging threat to health care professionals," 2 July 2018 The current penalty for the simple infraction is a fine, officials said. Becky Jacobs, Post-Tribune, "Police urge safety during Fourth of July holiday one year after boy killed by falling bullet in Hammond," 29 June 2018 Here’s what just happened: The US imposed what are known as Magnitsky Act penalties on more than a dozen Saudi citizens. Alex Ward, Vox, "Trump doesn’t want to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi. His new sanctions prove it.," 15 Nov. 2018 The two women quickly handed off the child pornography case to federal authorities, who could impose stiffer penalties. Jason Schmidt, Glamour, "The Army of Women Who Took Down Larry Nassar," 30 Oct. 2018

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.

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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

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Statistics for penalty

Last Updated

8 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for penalty

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

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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 \
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 \
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

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