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

Other fines and administrative penalties are included to ensure compliance. Darcy Costello, The Courier-Journal, "Look out, Bird and Lime. 5 more dockless scooters are licensed in Louisville," 20 June 2019 Allen's penalty killing unit was tied for the highest efficiency in the NHL last season (85 percent). Richard Morin, azcentral, "Arizona Coyotes to hire former Sabres coach Phil Housley as assistant," 20 June 2019 Unborn aren’t shielded by death penalty moratorium The majority of Californians surveyed approve of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on the execution of death row inmates. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, "Letter: Unborn aren’t shielded by death penalty moratorium," 19 June 2019 Both men appeared at Ham’s death penalty determination hearing in Washington opposite two female defense lawyers. Gabrielle Banks, Houston Chronicle, "Houston judge questions capability of federal prosecutor in San Jacinto County death penalty case," 19 June 2019 The Americans took similar motivation from their loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup – also on penalties – and rode it to a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in 2012 and, then, their third World Cup title four years ago in Canada. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Three years later, Sweden still talking trash about Rio Olympic win over U.S. women," 19 June 2019 From 2013 through 2018, the city accumulated a $10.3 million backlog of unpaid parking tickets and penalties. Hannah Sparling,, "Unpaid parking tickets in Cincinnati pile up to $10 million," 18 June 2019 The new billing law gives the state the ability to enforce these mandates with administrative penalties and the attorney general’s office the ability to seek injunctions against those who continue to engage in surprise billing. Laura Garcia,, "Texas lawmakers crack down on ‘surprise medical bills,’ tighten rules on freestanding ERs," 18 June 2019 The penalties include a criminal misdemeanor charge and a $10,000 fine. Devin Kelly, Anchorage Daily News, "Goldfish are thriving in a Midtown Anchorage pond. Alaska wildlife biologists want them gone.," 18 June 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

23 Jun 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 take the place or position of

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!