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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web The malice murder and felony murder convictions both carry a minimum penalty of life in prison. NBC News, 7 Jan. 2022 Killing one can lead to fines of up to $50,000, and/or up to one year in jail, plus a potential civil penalty of up to $25,000, according to the news release issued by conservation groups. Lindsey Botts, The Arizona Republic, 7 Jan. 2022 Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials cited Concerto, and levied a penalty of $12,145. Duaa Eldeib, ProPublica, 28 Dec. 2021 Each involuntary manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press, 15 Dec. 2021 The new option would allow Tesla to deliver its least expensive Model 3 cars more quickly, at a penalty of just 10 miles on EPA range ratings: 253 miles vs 263 miles—for the same sticker price. John Voelcker, Car and Driver, 4 Dec. 2021 The misdemeanor, for forcible touching, carries a penalty of up to a year in jail. New York Times, 3 Dec. 2021 The count of securities fraud carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine. David Smagalla, WSJ, 2 Dec. 2021 Last year, for example, the CPUC imposed a record penalty of nearly $2 billion because of PG&E’s role in sparking devastating fires in 2017 and 2018. J.d. Morris, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Dec. 2021

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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Time Traveler for penalty

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near penalty

penal theory


penalty area

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Statistics for penalty

Last Updated

10 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Penalty.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jan. 2022.

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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 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

More from Merriam-Webster on penalty

Nglish: Translation of penalty for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of penalty for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about penalty


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