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

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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 current penalty for possession of marijuana in Virginia is up to 30 days in jail, in addition to a $500 fine. Dominick Mastrangelo, Washington Examiner, "Virginia lawmakers pass marijuana decriminalization bill," 9 Mar. 2020 The penalty for perjury in Georgia is a fine of up to $1,000 and one to 10 years in prison. David Wickert, ajc, "Georgia may scrap ‘get out of jail free card’ for distracted driving," 4 Mar. 2020 The criminal penalty was the highest the department has assessed for a purely domestic price-fixing cartel, officials said. WSJ, "Novartis Unit to Pay $195 Million in Generic-Drug Price-Fixing Case," 3 Mar. 2020 The maximum penalty for being a felon in possession of a firearm is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Carol Robinson |, al, "Suspect in killing of Kimberly police officer indicted on federal gun charges," 2 Mar. 2020 The maximum penalty for a mail fraud conviction is a $250,000 fine and 20 years in prison. Steven Martinez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Former bar owner found guilty of starting the fire that destroyed his downtown Waukesha business," 28 Feb. 2020 Certainly unnecessary penalties are a sure way to not win games. Andrew Mahoney,, "UConn men’s hockey authored a great comeback story," 27 Feb. 2020 But federal prosecutors have decided against seeking the death penalty. azcentral, "How ICE agents' arrest turned into a fatal Ahwatukee shootout," 24 Feb. 2020 The union complaint demands the city cease interfering with the makeup of the union’s bargaining team and face a civil penalty or fine of $1,000 for each violation. oregonlive, "City threatens legal action as police union hires former Portland human resources manager for contract talks," 19 Feb. 2020

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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Statistics for penalty

Last Updated

16 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Penalty.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for penalty


How to pronounce penalty (audio)

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

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